It’s the first day of school and you’re beyond anxious about dropping your daughter off at school. She isn’t just any girl starting a new school year – she’s a girl with vitiligo. And you know that her spots – as cute as you think they are – might cause issues for her. So what do you do?
We spoke with Lori Mitchell, the author of “Different Just Like Me,” who faced this exact situation nearly twenty years ago when she dropped her own daughter with vitiligo off at school for the first time. Having thought about how to address her daughter’s skin from day one, she had a plan – to write a letter that students could take home on the first day of school.
Why you should write a letter
There are multiple ways to address your child’s vitiligo in schools, but Lori suggests writing a letter that students can take home on the first day of classes.
“We didn’t want to point to April or bring her up to the front of the class because she was very shy. So we were trying to figure out how to talk about her skin in a way that wasn’t secret but also didn’t bring too much attention to her. We could have sent her out of the classroom and then talked to the students but then it might have made it seem like it was something she should be ashamed of or it should be a secret. Instead we wanted April to be a part of the explanation. So we came up with the idea of a letter.”
Introducing the girl before the girl with vitiligo
On April’s first day of school, she wore long sleeves and tights so the kids wouldn’t notice her skin as much. That day, a letter went home with each of the kids. Instead of focusing on her skin though, the letter talked about April as a person first and then talked about her skin.
“The letter talked about how April had a cat and likes ice cream. We wanted April to come across as someone who could be a friend and then just mention that she has a condition. At the end of the day, we knew the other kids in the class really just wanted to understand what vitiligo was.”
A sample letter to get you started
To help parents figure out where to start, Lori shares the following sample letter on her website, http://www.differentjustlikeme.com/:
Hi my name is April,
I am in your child’s class (or I will play with your child on the playground).
I like to play with Barbies. I have a really soft, playful cat named Gizmo. I love to go swimming and my favorite food is Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.
I also have vitiligo. Vitiligo is a loss of pigment in my skin. It looks like white patches or “clouds” on my skin.
I’m a little shy at first so it’s hard for me to talk about it at times. Kids ask me a lot of questions about it so I thought I could give you the facts about vitiligo so that you and your child will know about my condition.
- Vitiligo is not contagious
- It doesn’t hurt
- I started with brown skin and it is slowly turning white
- 2% to 5% of the population has vitiligo
- There is no safe cure for vitiligo yet
- It doesn’t affect me in any other way
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.