My experiences of how children react to disability and illness

Posted by iChild, April 21, 2021 11:15 AM

By The Next Best Thing to Mummy

When I was working as a registered child minder I looked after a little girl who wore calipers on her legs to walk. She could only wear them for short periods as otherwise they made her skin sore. Her mother asked me to put them on and remove them throughout her time with me.


When we visited a toddler group , the other children were fascinated by the calipers and wanted to know all about them. ”Why was I putting them on?” ”Why did she need them?” I explained as best I could, and everyone had a great afternoon playing together.

Another child I cared for used Makaton  signs as a way of communicating along with her limited vocabulary. When she signed “thank you” after taking an offered biscuit and I gave her a thumbs up to say “good girl” the other children asked why we did this. I explained that she couldn’t hear as well as them because her ears didn’t work well enough. One little boy spent the rest of the morning staring at her ears!

One of the children I looked after had asthma. When he needed to use a spacer to breathe in his asthma medication, we all counted the 10 breathes that he had to take together. When he had finished, a child who had been watching asked if she could have a turn next. She became quite annoyed when I told her that she didn’t need his medicine!


I was already disabled after my stroke when my grandson came along. When he was about three years old, he loved to sit on my knee when I used my electric scooter. He would take hold of my stroke effected hand (which was always in a clenched fist) and he would gently massage it and encourage it to open, which it sometimes did, a little.

Another time when I was out, without my grandson, a boy came up to me and asked about my scooter’s joystick control. He watched with his dad as I demonstrated how I used it to manoeuvre the vehicle; he was truly amazed  and requested that I did it again and again.

A parent, whose child I used to child mind, and her son visited me when I was discharged from hospital after having a benign brain tumour removed. The boy who was about five wanted to know all about how the tumour had been taken out.

After checking with his mum, I explained about the operation. He looked at me wide-eyed and said, ”were you screaming, Karen?” When I replied that I hadn’t felt a thing because I was asleep, he was extremely disappointed and told me. ”I thought you would be yelling as the blood ran into your eyes!”

A few years later a neighbour’s children were playing in their garden as I passed by on my scooter. They asked why I needed it and why I couldn’t walk. When I told them that I had suffered a stroke, they wanted to know what that meant. Their grandfather had survived a heart attack, so I told them that a stroke is similar but it happened in my brain and not my heart; they were happy with my exclamation.

I believe in answering children’s questions about disability and illness as honestly as possible.

Children will sometimes stare, which really doesn’t bother me - but it does bother some parents who are embarrassed by this. I remember going through a shopping centre with my husband pushing my wheelchair ; a boy was walking past while having a good look at us, his father told him to stop staring, then he walked straight into the path of another wheelchair user!

Child minders and other early years practitioners should display posters of people with different disabilities so that children get used to seeing it.

My youngest son attended a small village school where there were several children with various special needs. My son and the child-minded children who came with me on school runs became very familiar with seeing ‘different’ children.

My Ofsted inspector seemed impressed  by this when I was questioned on this subject.

By The Next Best Thing to Mummy


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