7 Things to Say to Parents of Children with Special Needs

I originally wrote this as a note on Facebook, which not everyone could see, but I think this is appropriate after seeing a post on Facebook from The Autism Society of America which asked, “What do you wish people WOULD say?” linking the following article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/15/4-things-parents-of-kids-with-special-needs-wish-you-wouldnt-say/

This in response to a note that has been shared numerous times, first posted by Special Needs Parent Association titled, “7 Things Not to Say to Parents of Kids With Special Needs.”

1. “Aw, your child is so cute.” This was also on the list of what not to say, but only because it was more specific. For example, “Your child is so cute when he tries to talk.” Parents of special needs children are a lot like any other parent. We want to be told that our child is cute. We do not, however, want to hear that it is cute when our child struggles. I mean, is it cute when your child struggles? Or just a bit frustrating? So, when you say, “Your child is cute,” leave it at that. No need for further explanation.

 He is pretty cute, though, right?

2. As a parent of a child with special needs, I often find myself telling someone my child’s diagnosis before they ask because my child can’t talk to them (He has Autism), so the minute I reveal his diagnosis, feel free to ask, “What is Autism? What does that mean for him? Is their a cure?,” etc. I definitely want to answer your questions and want you to be informed.

3. “So, how old is your child?” This is question that you would ask any parent of a “typical” child and is completely and totally welcome. We want you to be interested in our children, especially with questions that you’d ask your friends/relatives/strangers who have “typical” children.

4. “Your child is an inspiration.” I think that parents of children with special needs don’t hear this one often enough. Our children do have to overcome obstacles that “typical” children grasp easily and/or at a much earlier age, so it’s nice to hear that our children inspire you to be a better person and to try harder and not to take your abilities for granted.

This is one of Thatcher’s most recent works of art, and quite frankly, it is inspiring. 

5. “Hey, have you ever heard of this program called “*Something that could potentially help your child*”? This is a great one because as parents of children with special needs, we are always looking for resources of which we were not already aware. But be aware, that this is only okay if you are not giving me medical advice (unless you are a medical professional) and are not trying to pressure me into trying something that most likely will not be useful in my child’s case. For instance, I’d never heard of a program in my state that is for early intervention before the age of 3, but was glad when a relative told me about it, even though it was a bit too late for my son. I was, however, able to pass this information along to other parents of children with special needs.

6. “Is there anything I can do to help?” This is one that I’ve heard numerous parents of children with special needs say they’d like to hear, but have never actually heard it myself. I know that my friends and relatives are concerned and they try their best to help, but I’ve never actually been asked, specifically, what a person can do to help. I’ve thanked my friends and relatives for all the help they do provide, but feel odd asking for help (even if I desperately need it at some points) without being asked if there is something to do. Why? Because if you don’t ask me, I feel like I’m burdening you, even if I’m not and it’s truly something you want to and would be willing to do. Perhaps, instead of giving people like me a lecture on us being too emotional about what you say to us, you should pay attention, especially if you are close to me, to when I seem like I’m under extreme pressure and offer to baby-sit, visit, go out to lunch, etc. Offer to do something that will ease the tension of my workload because lets face it, as the parent of a child with a special need I’m extremely busy and worrisome a lot of the time and could definitely use a pick-me-up and a good friend to discuss my concerns and/or vent to about the issues and challenges that my child and I face.

7. And last on my list, but certainly not least, “Hello. How are you?” And “I’m here to listen.” Many parents of children with special needs feel isolated. I know that you might be uncomfortable with the things my child is doing, but if we were friends before my son’s diagnosis/birth, I still want you to be my friend. I want you to want to understand and want to spend time with my family and me. Now, I will say that I’ve never had an issue with a friend avoiding me because of my own child, but I have to say, this happens to other people far too often. If you want to understand what we are going through, just ask. Don’t avoid us because you are afraid of hurting our feelings because, even if you do accidentally hurt our feelings, we will probably tell you. You will probably learn in the process if you keep an open mind and listen to our concerns.

Disclaimer: In order to write this note, I used a previous note posted by Special Needs Parent Association, mentioned at the beginning of this note as well as the website: http://parentingsquad.com/what-to-say-to-parents-of-children-with-special-needs, but the majority of what is written in this list comes solely from my own personal experiences. Feel free to add to this list of Things To Say as well as share this note.

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