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Please help me explain severe disability to my 5 year old

(6 Posts)
StarryStarryNight Fri 24-Aug-07 21:35:01

I am sorry if this is in the wrong place, I dont intend to offend, but I am at loss at how to handle this situation. I have seen threads get heated in the past, and I apologise for my ignorance.

My sister in law is a young woman of 21 who has severe disabilities. She lives at home with her mum (my mil) and we are currently visiting for holidays. She has no language, needs help with everything, but she can walk if guided.

Last time we were here my oldest who is 5 was only two years old, and accepted her with no questions. He played with her, and comforted her by stroking her arm when she was upset during a thunderstorm. When he was crying due to bad nappy rash, she started crying too, and managed to shuffle across the room to see what was upsetting him so. To me it seemed they had a "connection".

It is different now, he is scared, and has been refusing to approach her. He is also asking questions, such as why can auntie not talk, why is she not walking, why is she behaving like this. I am trying to explain, but he is only 5. Also, my SIL is the light of my MIL's life, and it is upsetting my MIL that my son is not rushing to her like he did last time. She says not to rush anything, but I can see she is turning her back to hide her tears.

My SIL has been trying to approach my son with smiles and excitement.

I guess what I am asking is: what should I answer my 5 year old? How can I best ensure that he is not scared and will manage to approach her with an open mind?

mymatemax Fri 24-Aug-07 21:53:58

Hi Starry

I've never had to deal with this myself but the headmaster at ds1 s school always seems to find the right words when explaining s/needs.

When ds1 was in yr1 he came home from school & said that the head had told him that his friend (with severe autism & learning difficulties)was just a friend at school like all the others but the friends brain did not always work in the same way as his so that is why his friend can't speak very well & sometimes behaves differently. Just the same as if you hurt your leg you might limp a bit.
Now he doesn't mention that his friend is any different - just that he is his friend.

I'm sure that with simple words & some time to get to know each other your son will love & enjoy his autie's company

gess Fri 24-Aug-07 22:02:31

I would just say that she finds it difficult to do x, y and z, but that she won't hurt him and she's very excited to see him and wants to be his friend (if you think its appropriate to say that). I'd say that she shows she likes him when she does <<insert something that she does when she's pleased to see him>> Then pad it out from there.

It's only a case of familiarity. DS2 (also 5) doesn't bat an eyelid around disabilties as he's grown up going in and out of ds1's school so its normal for him. When your son is more familiar with his aunt he won't be worried.

How often do you see her. Might be worth talking to him about her when you're not there as well.

It must be hard for your MIL- perhaps she has some ideas - what does your SIL like doing? Could they watch a video together or something? Does she like Disney videos or anything like that (just extrapolating here from people I know).

gess Fri 24-Aug-07 22:07:20

oh just to add every 5 year old boy that has been in this house (ds2's friends) has looked a little concerned by ds1; I think that's normal for 5 year olds, I guess you just need to try and make her more familiar iyswim. DS2's friend's who come here regularly are beginning to relax around ds1 now they know he's not going to do anything to them.

salsmum Sat 25-Aug-07 01:03:36

I think as gess says you need to find a 'common link' between your son ans your sil.
maybe you could read them both a story or watch video or even listen to some music together.
I think that your son will take your lead i.e. if you act comfortably around sil so will he.
Perhaps you could ask him to 'help' brush her hair or get things that she may need.
If you dont see your sil very often maybe you could take some picks of her to show your son when you get home/before next visit. children at that age are more accepting of certain situations better than us adults sometimes and i'm sure if you explain why she makes certain noises and what they mean things might not be so akward for him.
good luck. grin

StarryStarryNight Sun 26-Aug-07 21:47:02

Thanks. I am sorry for not being able to revisit the thread sooner, I only have sporadic internet access as I am abroad at the inlaws.

I think it is very hard for my son to see any common links with my sister in law. My toddler has more in commone with her than him, and he, like my oldest son 3 years ago, has a much easier time accepting her. Though, I must say it is getting better. He is now trying hard at making her laugh, clowning around and is delighted when she is laughing happily. He is no longer scared, and has realized he can ask questions freely. He had another surprise when he saw my MIL change her nappy today, but took it in his stride when MIL explained that she could not go to toilet like he can.

My son is very used to physical disability, as my dad has been paralyzed and in a wheel chair for the last 6 years. He also needs help with a lot, like cutting his food as he only has use of his left hand. But he can talk, and have a conversation with my son, as can easily help my son repair toys, or fit batteries. He has accepted that my dad has had a stroke and has lost his ability to walk. I guess it helps in a way. My SIL enjoys playing with rattles, and my son has found a musical toy that he enjoys pushing buttons to play music to her. She also very much enjoys standing holding hands and "batting", but my son is to small to do this with her, as she is very strong. They both enjoy a music channel that plays music videos, so maybe I can put that on for them both.

I have tried explaining that SIL's brain is just working a little differently, and that we have to accept her and enjoy her company on her own terms.

It is a good idea to take pictures so he can remember her better, it will help for our next visit.

We have not been for three years, but I think we will come annually from now on, as it is important for my son to be exposed to the language and culture of his father and have contact with his family here.

Thanks again for good advise.

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