When people learn of a child's diagnosis, whether it's a learning disability, a physically disability, or a chronic condition, they often don't know what to say. So rather than simply asking appropriate questions such as, "what does this mean for her?" or "can she meet my kids?" people often say what they think is compassionate and uplifting. But it's not. Even though people usually mean well, saying certain things leaves parents of children with special needs feeling frustrated, angry, and isolated.
1. If anyone can do it, you can
This isn't true. Parents of children with special needs don't have super powers. Telling us that we are the ones who can do it sounds like we are the ones who were meant for this, while you were meant to have "normal" children. Anyone can do what we do because it's a choice made out of love.
2. God doesn't give us anything we can't handle
If this were true, people wouldn't be drug addicts or homeless. The truth is, disappointing and often devastating things happen in life, like finding out your child has a disability. Most people can't handle it, especially not at first, and many children suffer because of it. The truth is that faith and God are what get many of us through. There are days that are so hard we feel like we could crumble to pieces, and we just might, but our faith picks us back up and gets us through to the next, hopefully better, day.
3. I don't know how you do it
This is something I don't know how to respond to, except to say something rude like, "I know. I'm awesome." But again, I'm not special. Parents of children with a special need are parents just like any other, doing the best they can for their child.
4. Did you know while you were pregnant?
This might be meant as just a random question, but to me it implies that if I had known while I was pregnant then I would have chosen to terminate my child rather than bring her into this world. It's more than hurtful; it's insulting. It implies that my child's life has no value. The unfortunate truth is that many children with disabilities are aborted and it's heartbreaking.
5. I'm sorry
I know it seems like a sad situation, and at first it was sad, and from time to time I am sad. But you don't need to feel sorry for my child or me. I am making sure she has a good life, with more joy than many "typical" children have. So please, don't pity us.
6. But she looks so healthy/normal
Yes, some children with special needs don't look any different from a "typical" child. But there are obstacles these children face every day that other people either can't see, or view as just a discipline problem. My child may look healthy, but don't underestimate the battles she faces each day or the effort she puts in to overcoming those obstacles.
7. She'll grow out of It
Don't downplay the diagnosis. Children with autism don't just have a behavioral problem. Non-verbal children aren't just shy. Children with problems eating aren't just being picky. These are children doing the best they can. These are parents trying to help their child overcome obstacles. Support them.
The next time you meet a family that includes a child with a disability, stop and think before you speak. Try not to act differently than you would with any other family. Children with special needs have personalities and preferences just like any other child and if you let them into your life, they will surprise you!