Caring for children with dis/abilities and exceptionalities is a wonderful opportunity to embrace diverse families in your community. You may hear different language or terms from families when they describe their child’s condition or ability level. Some families will use “special needs” or “disability.” Others will use specific terms such as, “He has Down syndrome” or “My child is deaf.” Depending on how recently a family has learned about their child’s needs and how they are coping, some families will avoid speaking about it at all even if they previously shared information with you.
It’s important to take your cues from each individual family. Some families will be eager to share updates and suggestions they learn from doctors, specialists, or teachers. If a family describes a recommendation to you as, “helpful for children with Down syndrome,” it is acceptable to mirror this same language as long as you are comfortable doing so. It is best practice to use person-first language. For example, “toddler with autism” is preferred over “autistic toddler.” Even though it is most important to think of children first as individuals (and not define them by their conditions or traits), there may be times when you need to ask families questions about caring for their infant or toddler. It can be difficult to avoid using medical terms and jargon during these conversations, and you may need to directly address their child’s condition or ability level. If you are unsure of what to say, ask the family how they prefer you speak about their child’s needs or condition. This shows the family that their input is valued, and it builds trust in your partnership with them.
Mia is a four-year-old in your family child care home. You have made many attempts to share about Mia’s learning, but Mia’s family members rarely ask questions or talk about their lives. Although Mia’s parents have never directly spoken to you about it, you know from the enrollment paperwork the family completed that Mia has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Since enrolling in your home two months ago, you have observed Mia to be a happy child who can do everything her peers do but is a bit slower than most children the same age. You have recently noticed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to help Mia put shoes on, and Mia has begun to trip and fall more frequently. You are not sure if this is “normal” or to be expected for a child with cerebral palsy. You are concerned for Mia’s safety and feel it is necessary to talk with the family.
How will you initiate this conversation with Mia’s family? Think about how to be sensitive to the fact that they have not chosen to speak about Mia’s condition with you. Record some notes on how you would discuss your concern with the family, and reflect on your thoughts with a coach, trainer, or family child care administrator.