A Letter To The Mom Of A Child With Special Needs

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
child with special needs
Susan Chiang / iStock

Dear Mom of a Child With Special Needs,

I suffer from depression and anxiety. I prefer people use person-first language to describe me — “a person with depression” rather than a “depressed person” or “depressive”; “a person with an anxiety disorder” rather than an “anxious person.” So I know to use first-person language to describe your child with special needs. But beyond that, I’m at sea with what I can and can’t say. Do I say “disease” or “disability?” Are those OK, or are they offensive? What about the word “sick?” I am a little nervous, because I want to be PC and non-offensive. I want to come across as kind and genuine, because I am.

Not that I need to describe your child, and I realize I may be overthinking this, but I want our children to be friends. Not just because my kids need to understand people with differences are an important part of our world, that they should be valued and treated the same as neurotypical people, but mostly because I want my kids to be friends with everyone. So I want our kids to like each other, I really do. I don’t want their friendship to smack of tokenism.

I also don’t know how to describe your child to mine. You’re going to have to help me. I don’t know always know what words to use that aren’t offensive (see above) or how much detail to delve into. See, I don’t want to violate your child’s privacy. It’s not my kid’s business how yours poops, unless you can see the colostomy bag, in which case, what if he asks? How am I supposed to answer that? I want him to understand your autistic child, but, for example, I don’t want to tell him that your child didn’t speak until age 5. I’d prefer not to describe your child at all, in fact, because I don’t describe my child’s other friends. But when a child has visible differences, my son is going to be curious and may ask questions, and he’s probably going to be taken aback unless we explain it to him.

You see, I really want us to get together. I imagine that being mom to a kid with special needs is isolating, both for you and for your child. I know there’s a lot of prejudice out there to deal with, and a lot of people who may not want to spend the time to get to truly get to know your kid. You probably have a ton of doctor’s appointments and therapies, which makes scheduling playdates difficult. It must be hard. It must be lonely. What can my child and I do to help alleviate that? I’m happy to listen to you. Or, if you want an afternoon free of medical talk, I’m OK with that too. Let’s chat.

I hope we can be friends. I promise you that if we see you in public, I’ll treat your child like a person instead of a condition. When my kids ask questions, I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. I’ll encourage them to ask you anything I can’t answer, and feel free to tell them it’s none of their business. Please introduce them to your child when they approach you. It would be wonderful for them to make a new friend, because everything else aside, my kids like making new friends.

I guess I only have one question left. Can your kid fit at our Lego table? If not, don’t worry. We’ll figure something out.

Thanks for your time. I know you don’t have much of it.


A Fellow Mama

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