We owe it to our kids to be open about our country’s history with racism and inequality, but how do you start a conversation about the Black Lives Matter social movement if your child has a disability that makes it harder for them to understand?
Experts say you should talk to your child as you would talk to a “typically-developing child” about race, social justice movements or anything else that might be a bit of a meatier discussion — just ensure that you tailor it to their developmental level and specific age group.
But that’s easier said than done, so we reached out to a mom, who has a child with autism, to find out how she tailored this discussion with her child and got some tips from an expert that works with kids with special needs, too.
Having a child of color with autism
For those who are unclear on what Black Lives Matter, is about: BLM was founded in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer and has since grown into a global organization in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
BLM moves to end white supremacy and bolster local power to thwart violence against Black communities from various entities.
Camille Proctor, executive director and founder, of The Color of Autism, an African American parent support network for children with autism, says that it’s very hard to explain to children of color that they will be discriminated against for their skin color — add a disability in the mix and the world becomes even more tough.
That’s why “It’s very important as parents we get them into self-regulating therapies such as Applied Behavior Analysis, ABA,” she says.
To some, many ABA’s are looked at as robotic and possibly “useless,” Proctor explains. But ABA services could actually save a child of color’s life by teaching them how to make eye contact, not pace and comply if they encounter a police officer and are deemed non-compliant.
“As a parent, I’ve explained over and over to my son, if you have an encounter with a policeman you must comply, but guess what? He doesn’t process very well and I can’t be 100% sure he’ll remember what I’ve told him, what seems like a million times,” she says. “It’s very scary as a parent and especially in today’s climate when it seems that there’s zero value associated with my son’s life.”
Proctor says that parents of color can’t “tiptoe” around the fact that the world is not fair.
“We (live in two Americas, so) we must be diligent,” she says. “As parents of color with children of different abilities we must teach them to first love themselves, but know that while the world may not love them you will always love them.”
She adds that parents should talk to their children about real-life scenarios of police brutality, which is a main concern of BLM and encourages parents to do reenactments with their children on what they should do if they have a run in with police.
Proctor’s top tips
Proctor suggests that parents of color who are looking for ways to broach the topic of police brutality with their kids can start by being open and honest. She also adds:
- Parents create social stories that detail what their child should do in these events.
- Parents demand better for their kids, especially if they live in underserved communities.
- Seek help from therapists, rather than police, to help you deal with mental health issues.
- Request mental health professionals come along with police to emergency calls when there is a behavioral issue.
“In order to gain equity, we as parents have to push for legislative changes within our government. We need people in office that recognize that our sons and daughter’s lives have value, too,” she adds.
A director’s approach
Ilana Stoch, director at Ontario-based Camp Kodiak, an integrated summer program for children and teens with and without learning disabilities, adds that when engaging in discussions about any serious, difficult or complex topic with kids with special needs, there is no right or wrong answer.
“The truth is, all of the strategies and suggestions should be used by anyone having these types of discussions with any child,” she explains. “When engaging in discussion with children about topics that are difficult, sensitive or rather complex, it is important that communication is clear and precise.”
When these discussions involve a child with special needs, Stoch adds that it is essential that you:
- Use language and vocabulary that they will understand (stay away from jargon or terms that may have multiple meanings or interpretations).
- Keep ideas simple.
- Use common themes that are meaningful and logical to them — e.g. being kind to others; everyone deserves to be treated with respect, etc.
- Find books, movies, pictures and other tools to help clarify what you are saying.
- Present friends, family members and other familiar people as examples to help illustrate why it is important to be kind to others.
- Let them ask questions — as many questions that they want to ask, and be prepared to answer multiple times, if needed.
“Be willing to have multiple conversations about the topic,” Stoch adds. “You may choose to have several small discussions so that you can reinforce what was already discussed and build on those ideas. Be patient and honest.”
For more information on the Black Lives Matter movement, visit BlackLivesMatter.com or BlackLivesMatterChicago.com — and for more information on race and racism, visit the Talking About Race page at ChicagoParent.com.
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