Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What NOT to Say to Special-Needs Parents

In the spirit of full disclosure, this post gets a little angry. It's pretty heavy on the snark too. 

You have either decided to stop reading now, or you are curiously waiting for the rant to begin.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

I often leave conversations with other special-needs parents with a bunch of new stories about weird/unfortunate/insensitive things that people have said to us. And continue to say to us. 

And while I totally know the feeling of sticking one's foot in one's mouth and saying something really dumb that just comes out wrong, I couldn't resist making this list. It might sound angry, but it's origin lies mostly in weariness.

Okay, here it is:

Things NOT to say to parents of a special-needs child

There must be a lesson you need to learn in all this.

My jaw actually fell open when a fellow mom told me she hears this all the time. She and I agreed that the people offering this gem probably need to learn a lesson themselves. This statement is arrogant and super lame.

I would never be able to handle it.

Frankly, we never thought we could handle it either. Nor did we want to. But when things happen to your child, you don't honestly have any other choice. We're not superheroes. We are normal people struggling with big challenges. Also, you're making my challenge about you. Stop it.

I would never want to raise a special-needs kid.

Someone said this to me a few years back and I blinked my eyes in stunned silence before opting to back away slowly from the conversation before my head started spinning around in circles. What do you even say in response to this? I honestly don't have a clue. Thankfully, I've only encountered this one just once.

Do you ever wish your child didn't have special needs?

This is like asking a puppy if it wished it were a turtle instead. It's a totally pointless exercise in futility. We have children. They have disabilities. The question assumes we would rather live in a dream-like state of wistfulness than face reality.

I heard about a study that shows ___________ (insert chemical of choice--pitocin, B12, Tylenol---whatever) causes autism.

Mothers who took especial care of their pregnant selves for nine hard months and who now spend their entire lives in the service of their children with disabling 
conditions do not wish to be told they and they alone are solely to blame for their child's issues. Let's all make a pact to stop blaming the people whose very lives are dedicated to caring for special children for unwittingly causing (in some people's opinion) the conditions that God sent these valiant children to earth with.

Do you think your younger child will have special needs that crop up?

I have been asked this question a truckload of times, and yet it still baffles me. It assumes that my family has imperfect genes or really back luck or something---that we're destined to birth disabled people, while the people asking the question apparently have nothing to worry about in their gene pool. So what if my youngest were to develop a disabling condition? Why do people think it's okay to ask me this? Also, FYI, parents like me are already completely aware that disabilities aren't just vague possibilities that happen to other families. We know it could happen again. We don't even need anyone to point this out to us.

Sometimes we all need to slap a filter on the thoughts leaving our mouths more than 
on our Instagram pics. I'm guilty of this too sometimes. The truth is that I really do appreciate when people engage me in conversation about my life and my kids' issues. 

Let's talk. And let's do it with sensitivity, and a genuine desire to understand. 


  1. My personal favorite:

    Have you tried _____ (essential oils, skull reflexology, special vitamin derived from the fin cartilage of a European shark) to help?

    Yes, dear, every night we realign our chakras with Jupiter while licking whale bones and breathing essential oils and chanting Norse god fairy tales and it has made ALL the difference! Thank you for your useless suggestions. :)

  2. I used to get all kinds of crazy insensitive comments and questions about infertility. No matter what life throws at you, people really need to think before speaking. I know we are al guilty of saying things, I just hope we can stop and think first!