What You Should NEVER Say to a Parent of a Child with Special Needs
Because some things can be hurtful, insulting and inappropriate
27 July 2017
When it comes to awareness of special needs, disabilities and learning difficulties - society still has a long way to go.
Especially when it comes to being a parent of a child who has special needs; not only can you find yourself victim of another's opinions about your parenting techniques, but they might also find themselves comfortable enough to share their thoughts on your child who has special needs.
Because for some people - boundaries don't exist when it comes to this topic, proving there's still plenty of hard work to be done. Raising awareness still needs to be done in order to ensure children with special need's are able to live a full, healthy life - without discouragement.
Whether the below comments have no intention to be hurtful, and come from a good place - just don't say them. While you might mean well, you'll probably find your words can still be as sharp as knives.
"They look so normal... I didn't know something was wrong with them!"
First of all - what constitutes normal? What is normal for one family, might be entirely different to another. What is normal? The use of the word 'normal' is so very often thrown about by individuals, without them understanding the harsh nature of the term. For a parent who has a child with special needs - this is their normal. There is nothing wrong with having a child with special needs. While they might have challenges, that doesn't mean they're wrong in any way. They are exactly who they are supposed to be.
"Is it genetic?"
It's not okay to ask this question - simply because, it is a conversation that is extremely personal to a family. No parent wants to think or be reminded of the fact that their genes could have been the cause of their children having cerebral palsy, or 22q11 deletion syndrome. It's most definitely possible that the parent who you are speaking to has gone through numerous tests and genetic screenings to determine whether they carry the gene that has caused their child's disability - and if they don't, by asking this question you're insinuating that there is room to blame for causing a child's challenges.
"You wouldn't know to look at them... They look fine to me!"
By saying such a sweeping statement, you're effectively dismissing years and years of continuous work and awareness surrounding all disabilities and disorders. Just because someone isn't physically disabled, doesn't mean they don't have a disability; they may have learning difficulties, or a congenital heart defect, or have gone through years and years of physical rehabilitation so they can appear to you as though 'they're fine'.
"Will they grow out of it?"
No. People don't 'grow out of' genetic disorders or physical disabilities. While the question might be asked innocently due to a lack of education surrounding the subject at hand, it's an extremely unhelpful observation to so carelessly make. A parent of a child with special need's can only hope for continued progress. A disability is NOT a sickness, and thus it should never be treated as though it is one - or worse, one that is 'curable'.
"I know someone who has the same thing... So I know what you're going through!"
While you're probably trying to relate to this parent, again - it's a very unhelpful thing to say. Actually, the reality is you do NOT know what the parent or family are going through, have been through and will go through in the future. Every experience is different for each parent of a child with special needs, and each child is entirely unique.
Simply put; if you have met a child with autism, you have met one child with autism... If you want to know what it's like to be in that parent's shoes, ask them respectfully and at an appropriate time and we're sure they'd be happy to share their experiences.
"Why didn't you put them in a home?"
This has to be the worst thing you could ever say to a parent of a child with special needs.
And really doesn't require an explanation, but we'll give one anyway - not only are you undermining the parent's abilities to offer their child the best in life, you're also labelling their child unworthy of a family environment, of an education, of a social life and most importantly; respect. Professional and medical support is always available for parents with children who have special needs, whether that's sporadic or regularly. But that doesn't mean the child should be dismissed from any opportunity a family can provide them.
"It must be nice not having to work and spend time with them..."
We think this is probably a statement any parent should never hear - whether their child has special needs, or not. There are many different factors when it comes to a parent deciding to not work - or work from home - that come in to play.
For those parents who have children with special needs, their schedule is probably quite the opposite of what you assume; doctor appointments, physically therapy sessions, hospital stays, language therapy, and many other things need to be done. Being a 'special needs parent' is HARD work, and is a full-time job, 24/7.
"You are such a great parent, I don't know how you do it."
The answer? The same way every other parent on planet Earth does it - by being a parent, loving your child and taking every hurdle as it comes, step by step. All parents do they best they can with the situations they are faced with in life. Taking care of any child, whether they have special needs or not, just makes you a parent. That's what parents do.
"You give them that?! I would never give my child that."
Just thank yourself lucky that your child has no medical need for the medicine or treatment being discussed. Ultimately, the difficult and complex decisions made about a child with special needs' care rests with their parents, and the team of highly skilled medical professionals they no doubt have the support of.
"This person I met was so dumb/stupid/retarded..."
Whether it's a lack of education, misunderstanding or (sometimes innocent) carelessness, throwing terms around like 'dumb', or 'retard' is NEVER okay around a parent who has special needs, or a family member. What might seem like an innocent remark to some, can actually be very hurtful to parents who have children with special needs. The 'R' word is a HUGE no-no, as it's offensive and outdated - and people should be taught the hurt that comes with saying this word.
On another note - making careless statements like 'oh I nearly had a stroke' can be particularly offensive to a parent who has a child who did have a stroke. Just be conscious of your audience before you speak.