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Not special, different

“What is wrong with her arm?” Meri, my three year old daughter asked as she watched CBeebies.

I looked up from what I was doing and saw that she was watching Cerrie, the CBeebies presenter who has only one hand.

“Her arm,” Meri continued, “Where is it gone?” She gestured to indicate the part of Cerrie’s arm that is missing.

Explaining disability to a child is never easy. Indeed, the magnificent Cerrie has gone on record stating that the BBC has had many complaints about using a presenter with such an obvious physical disability to present a baby and toddler’s television channel. One parent even complained that seeing Cerrie had given his daughter nightmares and demanded that she be taken off air.

As the parent of a disabled child, this is an issue close to my heart. We have explained Arun’s disabilities to Meri many times. The language we have used is that Arun is a “bit different” and “needs a bit more help with things”. Meri, growing up alongside her brother who has cerebral palsy, autism and learning difficulties understands this instinctively. She accepts it without question and loves him unconditionally (or as much as brothers and sisters can).

The fact that some parents are upset by disabilities on air is more indicative of their shortcomings than those of the presenters on screen. We live in a diverse world and that means we are sometimes confronted by things that we find uncomfortable. As parents we have a job to raise our children in a way that understands, accepts and celebrates these differences.

Just as a child with ginger hair and fair skin needs super strong sun-block in summer, some children need help in different ways. I have never liked or used the word “special” to describe disability because  all children are special and I don’t want my perfectly able daughter growing up thinking she isn’t just because that’s a label we use about her brother.

So, how did I answer Meri?

“Cerrie is just a bit different Meri,” I explained. “She hasn’t got a part of her arm. She was made like that. She’s like Arun. You know how Arun is different? Cerrie is a bit different too.”

She accepted this perfectly happily and got on with watching her TV programme.

If only grown-ups could be so mature about these things rather than projecting our own fears and hang-up on our children.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of

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