5 Things You Should Avoid Saying to Special-Needs Parents
Plus one simple statement they always want to hear.
Being the parent of a special-needs child has its challenges. Finding the right schools, therapies, and doctors—then finding a way to pay for the right schools, therapies and doctors—is just the tip of the iceberg! So, when we socialize with friends, we’re looking for a break, not an inquisition. Here are some things well-meaning friends say that can come off the wrong way, and one thing we never get tired of hearing.
1 “I don’t think I could do what you do.”
Parents of special-needs kids are always being told this. While you might think that this statement is kind, it actually hurts to hear it. Michael McWatters, parent of an 8-year-old boy with autism, gets this a lot. As he puts it, “Yes, you would do it as well as any of the rest of us. We’re not super-humans, we’re just people.” And don’t forget, raising a special-needs child is not always a grind—our kids can be pretty amazing, too!
2 “Don’t you think you’re spoiling him?”
As a parent of an autistic boy, I get this every now and then. It may look like I’m giving in to my child a lot, but I’ve simply just learned how to pick my battles. To prevent constant meltdowns (which can often involve some dangerous self-harming), I do give in and let him play on his iPad in the restaurant, for example. There are worse things in the world, trust me.
3 “Only special people have special-needs kids.”
This well-meaning comment rubs many special-needs parents the wrong way. What, exactly makes me so special to have a special needs kid? It can feel like a patronizing pat on the head.
4 “She looks so normal, though!”
Some special needs are more “invisible” than others. Kids with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities don’t necessarily have very obvious problems and can “pass” as a typical kid in certain situations. Using the word “normal” hurts, because you are implying that the child is “abnormal” or “not normal.”
5 “Have you tried… [insert special diet/medical procedure/herbal remedy]?”
Lots of people want to be helpful, offering a solution that worked for their cousin’s friend’s neighbor’s kid (or whatever random relation). But to be a true friend, you should not try to “fix” your special needs child. And chances are, we have already heard or read about it and know it is not something that would work for our child. What we need from our friends is acceptance; not solutions.
Instead, say… “How is everyone doing?”
All a special-needs parent really wants you to do is listen and be a friend. Open-ended questions like “How is your son doing these days?” or “How are you doing?” allow the parent to share as much as he or she needs to—both the positive and the negative. Work to understand the child’s diagnosis. Treat the special-needs child like you would any other child. Most of all, listen and be supportive. And remember: Just like all parents, a special-needs parent usually wants to spend some time bragging about her kid, too!
Melissa Morgenlander, PhD, is a mom of twins who blogs about the intersection of autism, media, and technology at TheIQJournals.com.