The latest statistics estimate that 155,000 Canadian children between the ages of 5 and 14, or 4% of all children in this age group, had some form of activity limitation reported in 2001. You might have personally met one of these children or their parents. What would be your reaction when you know that a family has a child with special needs?
To avoid awkward conversations and to make sure that we are giving the right encouragement, we’ve put together tips from parents and therapists of children with special needs and come up with the first part of this list of the top things NOT to say to parents with children who have the complex disorders of autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or multiple sclerosis.
#10. “Sorry for your child.”
One of the worst things you can say is that you feel sorry that a parent has a child with special needs. It is not something to be shameful about. Children should be considered a blessing and inflicting negativity onto the parent may do more harm than good.
Natan Gendelman, D.O.M.P., Director of Health in Motion Rehabilitation specializing in treatment for developmental disorders, agrees. “Believe in what your child can be, and where they can go, and disregard all the rest. It’s easy to say ‘I’m so sorry for you’, but try to do something and be helpful.”
#9. “I heard this disorder is related to… / can be cured by…”
Most often the parents are the ones who care the most about their child’s condition and have done the most research on their child’s condition. It may be possible that the treatment you are suggesting is one that has already been considered, but not chosen due to financial reasons or unproven results.
Stop yourself before you start advising the parent on the complicated medical conditions her child has.
#8. “I could never do what you do.”
Amy Lucas, a parent of four sons with Down syndrome, says people “assume that [her] life is crazy hard.” She says, “I get many people who say, “I could never do what you do.” I have adopted three sons with Down syndrome from Russia in addition to my biological son with Down syndrome. They assume that my children make my life difficult.”
Do not assume that parents with children with special needs feel like superheroes, they feel the same as any other parent does: emotions vary from feeling rewarded, to being exhausted, enjoying support to undergoing loneliness. Having friends and family who could give support and lend a listening ear is what most parents look for.
#7. “Are you crazy to adopt a child with special needs?”
Unfortunately, families who decide to adopt children who need special care are sometimes sidelined as being silly or senseless. Lucas, who has three adopted sons with Down syndrome, mentions that her friends and family have been supportive all along, but by the time she decided to adopt her third special needs child, “they thought [she] was crazy.”
“In the adoption community, mostly online, I get tons of support and we rejoice with each other when our children accomplish a goal.” Lucas says, “We also pray and offer support when something is going wrong. There are the people that would never adopt, the people who will only adopt healthy children, and then there are families like mine. I would ONLY adopt a child with Down syndrome. They are the best kids to raise and the most rewarding to watch succeed in life in my personal opinion.”
#6. “Life must be so difficult for you.”
On the contrary, many parents with special needs kids enjoy pleasant surprises and relish in the joys of seeing their children grow and blossom step by step. Whether it is feeding oneself, being able to control an impulse, play with other kids, or even controlling his/her own breathing, each of these feats are accomplishments that these parents celebrate. “I am rewarded every day with my boys,” Lucas says. “If these children were not rewarding to raise, I probably would not have adopted 3 more. They make me smile, and laugh daily.”