10 things you should not say to the parent of a special needs child
It’s not always easy finding the right words to say to the parent of a special needs child. This may be because you fear coming off as offensive or insensitive or you merely lack a total understanding of the situation.
To help you avoid an uncomfortable conversation we have listed 10 things that you should not say to special needs parents, as well as how you can say things better for you to easily strike up a conversation next time.
You may be pleasantly surprised to find that, while they may be caring for kids with disability, these mums and dads are, first and foremost, parents like you who only want the best for their children, too.
1. What is wrong with him?
While there is nothing wrong with asking about the child's condition, your choice of words will really make a difference.
Having special needs does not equate to something being wrong. Instead, you can ask how the child is doing or ask things about his disability that you would like to learn more about.
2. I’m so sorry
You may be trying to offer sympathy with words like "I’m sorry," but know that a special needs child may be different, but that is not necessarily something to feel sorry about.
Notice instead how funny or kind the child is, then pay compliments to those traits. Be encouraging rather than pitiful or sorry about the situation.
3. It's God's will
Hearing that having a child with disability is "God’s will" is nothing new to special needs parents. While some will say that these are gifts to parents who are strong and can handle the situation, others see it in a negative light.
Pinky Cuaycong, a housewife and primary care giver to her 20-year old son Alphonse who has autism, says that she has been told many times that her son’s disability is a punishment from God. "One person even went as far as to suggest that Alphonse’s autism is from the devil," Pinky shares.
Ultimately, opinions like these are best left unsaid. Choosing to keep these statements to yourself shows respect and courtesy towards the other family.
4. I don't know how you do it
This may seem like a compliment, but remember that it also may not sit well with a special needs mom who has no other alternative but to do whatever it takes to make things work.
Instead, sincerely ask how they are doing, and if maybe they would like to hang out. Share parenting tips and hacks that have worked well for you and that might make every day things easier for her to accomplish.
5. You should take extra care of her
Being a parent to a child with Down Syndrome, Camille, for 19 years, Entrepreneur Lolita dela Cruz has had many inappropriate statements thrown her way.
Of these, the one thing she really doesn’t appreciate hearing is that she should take extra care of her special needs child because she is a lucky charm.
For Lolita, there is really no need for other people to tell her that she has to take care of any her children or how to do it. She also finds it inappropriate when people call Camille her lucky charm in front of her other kids.
"They may feel that my special child is the only one who brings luck to our family," she says. Instead, she claims that all of her daughters are lucky charms, and treats them equally.
6. I know exactly how you feel
Unless you do walk in their shoes, it may not be a very good idea to say that you know exactly how the parent of a special needs child feels. Remember that every child and every experience is unique.
Instead you can try to relate your parenting experiences without directly comparing your children or each other as parents. Better yet, ask about what days are like for their family at home, in a respectful manner, of course, so that you become aware.
7. But she looks so normal
Saying that you wouldn't know a child has special needs just by looking at him can come off as offensive and insensitive. If you would like to compliment the child's appearance, you are better off saying how tall he is or complimenting his smile.
8. The "R" word
A lot of us are guilty of having used derogatory terms when referring to children with special needs. This could be due to a lack of awareness that these terms are in fact insensitive.
Blogger and Down Syndrome advocate, Michelle Aventajado shares that while some people do argue that the "R word" is used as a medical term, it is now an outdated one. This being so, we should be careful of the terms that we use when we refer to special needs children.
If you would like to take it a step further, you can even pledge to spread the word to end the R word.
9. Does he like normal _________?
Special needs kids like the same thing that other kids do, from ice cream to candy, spending time on the playground and watching cartoons.
Asking about what a child with disability enjoys is fine, but there is no need to include terms like "normal" or "ordinary" in your query. Simply ask if he likes a certain thing, and enjoy discovering more about him.
Some people merely stop and stare when they see children with special needs.
Blogger, Neva Santos, whose son Noah has Down Syndrome, recommends that you just go ahead and say hi instead. "This seemingly simple gesture will always be welcomed," she writes.