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5 Things You Should Not Say to a Special Needs Parent (and 5 Things You Should!)

One of the downsides of being a special needs mom is that we’re subjected to a variety of comments as people see fit. Some are well-intended (but still kick us in the gut) and some are downright thoughtless. Every parent has their own hot buttons. Here’s my version of “5 Things You Should Not Say to a Special Needs Parent (and better yet “5 Things You CAN Say!”)

5 Things You Should Not Say to a Special Needs Parent

“How is he/she doing cognitively?” Would these people ever think of asking a parent of a so-called typically developing child that question? An IQ test or age-appropriate academic skills are not a reflection of our children’s worth as human beings.

“I’m sorry.” Parents don't need to be told you're sorry. A good response to this is “There’s nothing to be sorry about. He’s a JOY.”

“Have you used spanking or other forms of discipline?” This question often emerges, sometimes accompanied by unsolicited murmurs from other parents or adults hinting at how they would manage the situation if the child were theirs. It's a reflection of the diverse views on managing behaviors, especially in children with sensory processing challenges. For instance, such children might become overwhelmed in crowded places, leading to increased activity and difficulty in maintaining expected behavior.

These challenges can complicate participation in community events, or when you are out in public shopping or running errands, requiring families to adapt to their child's specific needs. The discussion points to a broader dialogue on how to combine effective parenting with principles of understanding and compassion, moving beyond traditional or punitive measures.

“That’s so retarded.” It breaks my heart every time I hear this word. It isn’t funny. It hurts and demeans our children and us. There are so many other words in the English language that could be used.

“Did you know when you were pregnant?” This is a very personal and inappropriate question to ask. Pregnancy is a complex and intimate journey, and questions like these can be invasive and insensitive. Each pregnancy experience is unique, and not all aspects are open for public discussion. It's crucial to respect privacy and understand that some topics, especially those related to pregnancy, are best left unasked unless shared voluntarily.

5 Things You Should Say to a Special Needs Parent

Say “Congratulations!” when their baby is born. This is so important. Such gestures of support and recognition are invaluable, especially in a world where parenting can come with many unforeseen challenges.

“How Can I Help?” If they’re anything like me, they may just mumble “thanks”  and not be able to come up with concrete ideas. Offers to babysit are wildly appreciated. Offer to pick something up from the store for them. Stop by and visit. Some special needs parents are really housebound and starved for company.

“Can your child come over to play?” A sad reality for many parents is they're just not included in a lot of things and unfortunately with social media, it's easier to see when they are left out. Yes, it will take a little bit of effort to interact with our kids. They are slower to process. They have language and communication difficulties. Sometimes they are going to say and do inappropriate things.

But how will they learn to interact in appropriate ways if nobody wants them around? Try making a set plan with a start and finish time so everybody knows what to expect. You just may find that you’ll receive a lot more than you’ve given.

“Why don’t we do breakfast/lunch/coffee?” Many special needs parents (including me) are heavily connected on social media channels. Given our hectic and stressful schedules, it can be the only social interaction we get. But nothing replaces real-life fellowship with people who live in your area.

“I’d like to stop by.” For new parents, transitioning from a career-focused life to parenthood can be a profound change, often filled with unexpected challenges and learning experiences. It's not uncommon for new parents, regardless of their background or the nature of their child, to feel a bit lost in this new role.

In today's world, where social media creates a sense of connection, the value of genuine, in-person interactions and friendships cannot be overstated. Having someone who reaches out, offers support, and spends time with you can make a significant difference, especially during the early stages of parenthood. These real-life connections are vital in navigating the joys and challenges of raising a child.

Noah’s Dad has compiled a great list of positive things you can say to someone who has received a Down Syndrome diagnosis. This is a great example of positive things you can say to a parent facing any prenatal diagnosis.

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