15 Children's Books That Help Kids Understand What Differently Abled Kids Are Up Against
Talking with your children about what it's like for kids who have different abilities or challenges than them can be challenging. On one hand, at least for me, I don't want to create an idea of separation or otherness; ideally my son will treat kids equally. Yet, on the other hand, I have to answer questions he has about children who live or do things differently than him. Especially when kids are young, sometimes reading can accomplish more than solely talking. That's why it's great there are children's books that help kids understand what differently abled kids are up against.
In my experience, both as a parent and as someone who has worked nearly a decade in the education system with children with varied abilities, I have found that it's usually the adults who make these topics more complex or awkward than they need to be. The beauty of children lies primarily in their ability to look past the external and jump straight to inclusion
Whether or not you have found the topic difficult or too complex to fully discuss with your child, it's always a great idea to supplement whatever it is you're teaching them with literature. So check out these children's books that help kids understand what differently abled kids are up against.
1. 'My Cerebral Palsy Is My Disability But Not Me' by Adrienne Chantal Nappier
I have a dear friend whose daughter has cerebral palsy, and not once has she let it define her or what she can do. My Cerebral Palsy Is My Disability But Not Me is simple enough for most children to understand, regardless of age, and shows children that even if someone looks like they can't do the same things, that doesn't mean they can't.
2. 'Just Because' by Rebecca Elliott
Told from the perspective of the younger brother, Just Because tells a beautiful story of how much he loves his big sister even if, "she can't walk, talk, or move around much." This could be especially helpful for children who have or who know kids whose siblings have different abilities.
3. 'My Friend Isabelle' by Eliza Woloson
My Friend Isabelle follows Charlie and Isabelle — two best friends who do all the things that best friends love to do together. Their only difference is that Isabelle has Downs syndrome and Charlie doesn't, but that doesn't prevent them from having a fabulous friendship.
4. 'All Dogs Have ADHD' by Kathy Hoopmann
Intentionally told in a humorous and lighthearted way, All Dogs Have ADHD takes the stigma and awkwardness out of the equation when talking about children who have ADD or ADHD. Using cute and silly illustrations of dogs being energetic or distracted makes the topic relatable.
5. 'Susan Laughs' by Jeanne Willis
Whimsical illustrations show Susan, the title character in Susan Laughs, enjoying a number of activities like watching TV with her friends, playing on swings, and swimming with her family in the pool. It's not until the end that it's revealed Susan actually uses a wheelchair. This brilliantly shows kids that differently abled kids shouldn't be labeled or held back.
6. 'Special People, Special Ways' by Arlene Maguire
Told through vibrant illustrations and with a wide range of diversity, Special People, Special Ways shows children with various disabilities enjoying everyday activities just like anyone else would. From kids who use braces or wheelchairs to children who are blind or deaf, this book covers it all with ease.
7. 'Being Ben' by Jacqueline Roy
Being Ben follows a boy who has anxiety, irrational phobias, and intrusive thoughts. This book truly gives insight into how something like anxiety can intensely impact a child's life and why it's so important for others to offer support in many forms.
8. 'The Alphabet War: A Story About Dyslexia' by Diane Burton Robb
Adam is just like all the other kids in his school, except he is involved in The Alphabet War, aptly named because he feels like he's constantly fighting with letters. Adam has Dyslexia and this shows other children just how challenging certain tasks can be and how much inclusion and patience is appreciated by those who need it the most.
9. 'Max The Champion' by Sean Stockdale
Perhaps the thing I love most about this book is that it doesn't explicitly address any disabilities. Rather, in Max the Champion, children are shown competing in various sports and only through the illustrations does the reader notice that some kids have hearing aids, inhalers, or wheelchairs. This, in my opinion, is a great way to approach the topic because the story shows how everybody can participate and have fun in their own way.
10. 'What's Wrong With Timmy?' by Maria Shriver
A question that any child might ask, What's Wrong With Timmy? explores how parents and children can have open, helpful communication about anyone who looks or does things differently than them. When the main character Kate initially asks this question, she is nervous to approach the boy, but ultimately finds they have more in common than she initially expected.
11. 'Freddie And The Fairy' by Julia Donaldson
In Freddie and the Fairy, Freddie finds the fairy, Bessie-Belle, caught in a tree and rescues her. In return she will grant him wishes for his kind deeds. The only problem is that Bessie-Belle can't hear well and Freddie mumbles and has a difficult time speaking. Through lots of patience and with cooperation, the two find a great balance and get along swimmingly.
12. 'Don't Call Me Special' by Pat Thomas
Aimed specifically at younger children, this picture book shows people with various abilities living life to the fullest and even explains what some of their special equipment is so they aren't scared or intimidated. Don't Call Me Special is powerful and simply stated all at once.
13. 'The Black Book Of Colours' by Menena Cottin
A feat in creativity and ingenuity, The Black Book of Colours describes what life is like for people who are either blind or have impaired vision. The actual pages feature textured and raised images so children can understand how others see the world through touch.
14. 'When My Worries Get Too Big!' by Kari Dunn Buron
Dealing primarily with anxiety, When My Worries Get Too Big also tackles a wide range of intense emotions and how those feelings and thoughts can affect a person's everyday experiences. Additionally, the text and illustrations make these big concepts easy to understand.
15. 'Why Do You Do That?' by Uttom Chowdhury
Why Do You Do That? is actually aimed primarily at the children and young siblings of people living with Tourette Syndrome (TS). What might look odd or even scary to some kids is gently explained through thoughtful text and imagery.