Before I had children I was always particularly intrigued by children with special needs and their parents. My senior year of high school I babysat for a family a 2 year old with cerebral palsy. I learned so much during that year and lost a little bit of my insecurity in approaching people who had children with special needs. I always wondered, though, whether they would think me rude, or if they would take my kind words toward them and their child as an opportunity for friendship.
I found out later on for myself.
Almost six years ago I gave birth to the most perfect little baby girl that was so sweet and the tiniest baby I’d ever held. She looked a lot like her older brother and was such an easygoing newborn. When she was 8 weeks old she was diagnosed with Down syndrome, a genetic condition when the body has 3 of the 21st chromosome instead of 2.
Looking back at myself “pre-disability-club-membership,” I can answer the question that I always wondered then. I can say with ease that if you have a kind word to say to the parent of a disabled child… that without a doubt, share that with them! Some parents have very little outside support and encouragement, while others are well connected. As with any parent, there are a lot of needs that a young child has. Parents of children with disabilities face those same challenges, and sometimes health difficulties or delays in development as well.
So, what should you say to the parent of a child with disabilities, and what might you want to keep to yourself? Here’s a little help in that area. Most of all, remember that the parent of a special needs child is JUST LIKE any other parent… and their child is just like any other kid! After all, we are all created in God’s perfect image. A child with disabilities is a child first, and they want the same basic things that any child does. The parents? They do too. Acceptance and Friendship are two of those things!
What to say:
Encouraging words about the child
She is beautiful. He’s so well behaved. Look at that great smile she has!
Encouraging words to mom
You handle yourself so well. I bet you’re a great mom.
General conversation not aimed at the mother or child, but just the person
Wow, it’s hot out today. Have you been to the new theater in town?
Questions not pertaining to the child’s disability
How old is your son? Did you have light blonde hair like hers as a child? What a cute shirt, where did you find that for him?
What not to say:
Don’t speak as though the disability is bad
I’m so sorry he was born that way. I’m sure it’s hard dealing with her all the time.
Don’t put the parent on a high pedestal
You must be someone very special. I could never do what you do.
Don’t point out the difficult things that they may be dealing with
Wow, he has a lot of troubles, doesn’t he?. Does she always scream as you walk through the mall?
Don’t ask intrusive questions, or things lined with aiming guilt.
What’s wrong with your son? Was it something you did that makes her that way? Will she outgrow all those problems?
One of the biggest things to consider when talking to the parents of a special needs child is this: It often means the world to them to have someone approach them and make kind conversation. Someone willing to embrace them and their child in a positive way is often just the pick-me-up they may need.
A last note, is that some parents are very open about discussing their child's disability. Some parents would really rather not. Allowing the parent to make the first move in addressing the special needs of their child is usually a safe way to chat with someone that you don't know personally.
**I often get a topic in my head and brew on it for a while. Sometimes it makes it out to a Word document, often to be stuffed away in a folder and never looked at again. Today, I took a second look at that folder and decided that a few of those articles I have hidden away because they're not how I usually blog... well, they're about to make an appearance. So, the first of my "articles" about special needs parenting. There are a few of them already written that I will post at random, and each is intended to be read by a diverse population of special needs parents AND those who may read about "us" but aren't quite "in our world"... yet :).