One of your friends or relatives might have a special needs child, and maybe you’re never quite sure what to say. You don’t want to make your friend uncomfortable or say the wrong thing, so maybe you don’t say anything. There are plenty of lists out there of what NOT to say to all kinds of moms. I’ve seen lists such as “Annoying Things People Say to Moms of All Boys,” “Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman,” “Things You Shouldn’t Say to Special Needs Parents…” just to name a few!. The problem is there isn’t as much out there about what you CAN or SHOULD say. How can you show your interest or concern without feeling like you’re walking on eggshells!?
Hopefully this list will give you some ideas of what to say when your friend talks about his or her special needs child. But first, remember this: There’s a common saying in the Autism Community – “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.” In a nutshell, not everyone with the same diagnosis experiences the same symptoms/challenges/talents.
1. “What does that mean?” I try to be candid about my son’s diagnosis (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in hopes that it will become more accepted. Even so, I still cringe and prepare for ignorant-yet-well-meaning questions or comments. I recently went to lunch with a friend who didn’t have children and prepared myself for the worst. She asked what the diagnosis meant and just wanted to learn more. I was so surprised by her genuine interest that it brought me to tears. Admitting you don’t know something and just being interested can go a long way.
2. “How is ___ going?” I was at work and casually mentioned I had a parent-teacher type appointment with my son’s therapists, so I’d be coming in late. The following week, a coworker asked me how the appointment went. Randomly being asked by coworkers how my son’s speech therapy is going really made my day. I feel like I can share my son’s milestones with them, and they seem proud of the progress he’s making as well.
3. “Sounds like he/she is doing great!” This phrase can replace “He/she seems normal to me!” or “I couldn’t tell anything was wrong with him/her.” These may seem like nice comments, but they kind of minimize the challenges these children face. Some kids are in countless hours of therapy and deserve a lot of credit for their hard work!
4. “What have you read/heard about ________?” You may have heard of a new therapy or diet that promises great results. Chances are, your friend has too. Instead suggesting a treatment, you might try mentioning what you’ve seen or read and ask what they think about it. They probably already have an opinion and may teach you something you didn’t know!
5. “How is _______ doing?” If your friend has more than one child, ask about her other children. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I recently interviewed a respite care provider who only seemed interested in talking about my special needs child. Uh, hello! I also have a three-year-old who’s super important to me too!
6. “You’re an awesome mom.” I don’t think any mom gets tired of hearing this. Special needs parents in particular are stressed about doing the right thing for their child and probably feel like they’re never doing enough. (In fact, doesn’t every mom know this feeling?) I think we need to say this to ALL our mom friends as a general rule!
7. “How can I help? How can I talk to my kids about ___? How can I prepare for your visit?” Depending on how close you are, your friend might need help, but won’t ever ask. If you want to learn how to babysit for their special needs child, put yourself out there. They might never ask, because they think you don’t want to. If you have kids around the same age, ask if there is anything they’d want your kids to know before they play. If they’re coming over for a visit, be open about your plans and ask if they have any concerns.
This is not an all-inclusive list, but I’ve found that these types of questions and comments are generally welcome. Do you have a child with special needs? Do you agree/disagree with any of these?
What kinds of things do you wish people said or asked?