The One Thing To Never Say To A Special Needs Parent

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There's a lot to think about parenting a child with special needs. Worrying what people may say about special needs children shouldn't be one of these things.

children with special needs

Parenting young children is tricky at best, heart breaking at times, and equal parts beautiful and nerve-wracking always. No matter who we're parenting, all moms need the same thing from each other: a little grace. Special needs parents spend a tremendous amount of heart and energy creating a safe, accessible, and loving day for their children. This safe bubble is burst when well meaning people ask questions that are inadvertently hurtful. VProud intern Claire HarnEnz reflects on an interview with Alma Schneider, a LCSW and a special needs mom. In the interview, Alma gets personal with her reaction to questioning parents. And in this post, Claire gets personal with her heartfelt and wise opinions as an observer who just had her eyes opened—wide.

—The VProud Team

kids with issues

What Not To Say To A Special Needs Mom

Both you and your child might be curious about a classmate or playground companion. It might seem so easy to just ask "What does he have?" and try and get an answer. However, your good intentions might be detrimental to the family. There are much better ways to address child who is different than your own.

The World Heath Organization estimates that around 20% of all children worldwide have mental disorders and that 15% of the entire world population has physical disabilities. These facts, coupled with the rising numbers of children diagnosed with autism, mean that supporting parents who have children who are different than your own is vital. Asking what that child “has” is not an effective way to do this. By presenting that question to a mother or father at a school function, in a classroom, or by a playground, it brings up a point that could be sensitive during a possibly inappropriate time. Alma Schneider, a mother of a child with special needs, also points out that it is a private matter that she might not want to share with you. I would never want someone asking me about my medical conditions so I should not ask about others'.

What Special Needs Moms Really Need

Usually, when the question is asked, the intentions are good—either friendly curiosity or perhaps a desire to help. However, there are much better ways to support families than asking questions. The best ways to help are the most obvious. This means, first and foremost teaching your children not to stare. The best way to teach it is by making sure that you are not staring. After that, just treat the parent and their child like any other family. This means inviting them over for coffee and arranging play dates between your children. Teach your own child to befriend kids who are different from them as well as those who may not have very many connections. A small gesture like this can go a long way for both the child and their family. It is very isolating to have a child with special needs so any way you can break through that bubble is helpful.

My final takeaways are: It's important to not go overboard. Never judge or suggest parenting advice to a parent of a child with special needs or autism. It's complicated enough to offer advice to parents of neuro typical children so unless you are a paid professional during a therapy session, stay away from suggesting anything. Instead of criticism, offer to push a grocery cart, have a play date, or just quietly walk away. Saying nothing is always better than saying something degrading to a parent who is often just trying their hardest.

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