Ten Things Not to Say to Special Needs Parents (Part One)

610363_80659433The 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.”

Stay tuned for the second part and top five items of the “Top Ten Things Not to Say to Parents with Children with Special Needs” to be posted next week! Did you agree with the list so far? Let us know what you think by commenting below!

About the author

has written 31 articles for Enabled Kids.

2 thoughts on “Ten Things Not to Say to Special Needs Parents (Part One)

  1. I understand the sentiment in this post, but being a special needs mom, I have to say I disagree with almost all of it. #10…I do feel sorry for my son. I know that he will have an amazing life, but I also know that I will be tgere to console him when he’s not allowed to play sports with his cousins; or when he’s spending weeks in the hospital, instead of playing with friends. #9 I feel blessed when people have taken time out of their lives to understand my son’s medical issues. Sure, I’ve already read everything I could get my hands on, but I feel love when someone wants to help. #8 I DO feel like a superhero! My son needs surgeries, special assistive technology, hours of weekly therapy and doctor’s appointments that take up most of our free time. On top of this, my daughter and husband need me, and the household chores and bills still need my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything, but sometimes it’s nice to hear that people see how hard I work…consider it a compliment. Finally, #6 I love my life most days, and I love my children…but lets be honest. Life IS difficult very often! On top of the extra paperwork, bills, seeing my child in pain, and stress, I worry. I worry about how my son will be treated, how his next surgery will go, and how long he will live. Being a special needs mom is far more rewarding than it is anything negative, but it is a conscious choice I make every day to be positive and enjoy my life to the fullest.

    • Thank you very much for your comment Becca! What you’re saying is very right and thank you for listing your feelings and scenarios where you feel blessed instead of offended when people show interest in helping out or asking about your son!
      It’s so awesome that you do feel like a superhero, and honestly, we think all parents are!
      It’s great to know that you have such positive responses to phrases a lot of people would find offensive! Keep it up, woman! :)

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