Being a special needs parent is a difficult task, one that requires patience, time, and thick skin. Of all the difficulties a special needs parent must endure, seemingly well-intentioned yet insensitive comments are near the top of the list.
Many times, such comments, usually directed at parents who have just discovered their child has a disability, are a result of a person’s desire to offer support, reassurance, and well-wishes. Other times, however, such comments are the result of a person’s ignorance. I can’t tell you how many times my grief or worry over Ewing, now 4, and his hemiparesis and cerebral palsy from a stroke in utero were met with comments that were intended to make me feel better (I hope!) but did just the opposite. The life of a special needs parent can be a lonely one, made even more so when it becomes obvious that people would rather pretend nothing was wrong at all than listen to the very real feelings and struggles that moms and dads of kids with special needs endure.
Want to help a parent whose child has special needs? Here are five things you should never say, especially to one who is just beginning the journey.
1. God only gives special children to special parents. While this comment may appear reassuring, suggesting somehow the parents’ character is admirable and they will surely succeed in taking care of their child, it only serves to further the parents’ already desperate state. No parent wants to hear that God intentionally harmed their child or saw fit to make them, of all people, the bearers of this burden.
2. You can barely tell anything is wrong with him. Not only does this reaffirm that something is “wrong” with the child, but it also suggests that “normal” is the only acceptable way to appear. “You can barely tell” implies the child doesn’t quite measure up, but he’s close, and that should be some sort of compensation.
3. What do those doctors know, anyway? Quite a bit given their education and training, one would think. Refusing to accept a child’s diagnosis only serves to make the parents feel even more alone. Parents need someone to problem-solve with them, to brainstorm treatment options and best child-rearing practices, not someone to deny the child’s needs and the difficulty raising the child might present.
4. I’d sue the doctors and hospital if I were you. No one can assume to know what he or she would do if faced with the same circumstances as the parents of a special needs child. Even if the child’s disability were the result of doctor or hospital malpractice, suing them is not going to miraculously cure the child of his ailments. Sometimes, parents want to cope by thinking about what they can do for their child now, not what they couldn’t prevent in the past.
5. I know just how you feel. Unless you’ve been through the exact situation as the parents, there is no way to know just how they feel. Such a statement does not make the parents feel as though they’re surrounded by people who understand; it reinforces that few people, if any, truly get it.
Knowing what to say in certain circumstances can be difficult. The best thing you can do is listen and try to understand. Affirming the parents’ feelings and offering to be a shoulder to cry on is quite possibly the best support you can provide. And they’ll thank you for it. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.
Related post: Dear Newly Inducted Special Needs Parent