grandfather holding smiling baby
Educating Your Extended Family on Disability

We often enter church with the belief that the congregation won’t understand disability. But we tend to expect our own families to understand us, even if we haven’t taken the time to educate and train them. Familial ties can make education and training more complicated, but it is worth the effort to take some potentially difficult steps to invest in your own extended family.

Here are a few strategies that might help you approach your relatives:

Be patient and keep expectations achievable. Think of the process that you went through to understand and fully embrace disability. The process toward acceptance can take a while, especially if relatives are not immersed in disability daily.  

Start with the big picture. It is easy to dive into your child’s or your spouse’s disability because that is what you most want them to understand. Instead, first give them a framework, both biblical (disability is a result of the fall of man; each of us is not as we were intended to be pre-fall) and practical (think person-first language, terms associated with your disability, and tips for how to interact).  

Write a plan for how to discuss the specifics of your family’s disability. It is easy to get side-tracked by questions, comments, and emotions when having discussions with relatives. Having an outline will help you stay on track and to pick up where you leave off if there are tangents. This will keep you from forgetting the really important things. 

Plan the context of your conversation and include breaks. Initiate a time that is quiet, comfortable, and conducive to talking. Provide childcare, have coffee and dessert on hand, and plan break times. Give information slowly and anticipate emotions so that you won’t be surprised when they appear.

Keep educating. Often the information you want to convey has a lot of breadth and depth. One time through is not usually enough education for extended family members. Set expectations up front that this is just the first of several discussions. Make notes and revise anything that didn’t work for when you meet again.


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