10 Things You Never Say to the Parent of a Special Needs Child


It seems that the vast majority of us suffer from what I like to refer to as the “foot in mouth” disease. We open our mouths, insert foot and only then realize that perhaps what just came out of our mouth was not all that appropriate. But even this issue is far better than the other one from which so many people suffer, which I like to refer to as, “The inability to just keep your mouth shut,” on any given occasion. Before I go any further, I understand that too many people are offended by too many things anymore. I get it; I do. It makes me crazy when people become offended over things that are unimportant and don’t matter (mostly anyone else’s opinion) or the people that are offended over silly and trite comments.

But that doesn’t mean that people should say whatever they want without first thinking it through, especially to the parent of a child with special needs. My own little boy suffered from mild hearing loss in both ears for a year until the fluid behind his drums disappeared, and we thought for many months he would need hearing aids. When discussing his needs with others, I was shocked at just how callous some people can be without much thought at all. And while I do realize that many people were just unsure of what to say and even trying to make us feel better, it did provide my husband and I with a few things that we just feel that no one should ever say to a the parents of a child with special needs.

He looks fine

Thank you? It’s not a hurtful comment by any means, but it is a bit ignorant. Did you not realize that a child with special needs could have a number of special needs that have no effect whatsoever on the physical appearance of a child? Not everyone looks ‘different’ with their special needs. Some kids look like every other children you see on the street without the physical appearances you might see in a child with Downs Syndrome or a child with a missing limb. And while parents get what you mean, it still sounds a bit more like you don’t believe that the child has special needs.

I never would have guessed just looking at him

Most people don’t. Unless a child is born with a physical deformity, such as a missing limb or some other health issue, it’s not typically something you just ‘see,’ and it makes this statement one that means very little to special needs’ parents.

Maybe the doctors are wrong

Unless you are a doctor, this is not a welcome opinion. Do you know how many times these parents likely hoped and prayed that there was something wrong with the information the doctor’s found? Perhaps they accidentally switched test results with another patient or the machines were broken or the information incorrect or it just went away. These parents hope and pray for miracles all the time, so suggesting that the professionals who attended years and years of medical school are incorrect is not a welcome statement.

I think that doctors like to diagnose things prematurely, really, so perhaps he will grow out of this

Okay, so I can agree with you that I think that there are too many people willing to slap a label on a kid and prescribe medication for kids with issues such as ADHD without actually taking into consideration perhaps there is nothing wrong with that child other than the fact that he or she is a child (though I know there are kids that really do suffer from ADHD and similar issues). But that doesn’t mean that doctors are diagnosing things like Autism incorrectly, and assuming that a doctor is wrong and a child will grow out of something is a bit callous.

Is it something you did?

Really? Would you ask a parent whose child was in a horrible car accident if the accident was caused because they were texting or under the influence? NO. That would be rude. So what makes you think it is at all appropriate to put that kind of idea into the mind of a mother whose child has a special need and make her feel that she might be to blame?

I don’t know how you do it

You just do.

I don’t know if I’d be able to give such strong meds to my child

If your child’s life and health depended on them, you would. But I digress. You are free to give your child or not give your child whatever medications you feel are appropriate, but that does not make it right to insinuate that other parents are harming their children in an attempt to benefit their health. Do it, don’t do it; don’t judge.

Have you tried this doctor or that doctor or this doctor?

This is a pet peeve of mine. Watching the Real Housewives of Orange County the other night, I watched as one of the wives who believes in natural medical intervention in lieu of actual medical intervention ask a man suffering from cancer and undergoing chemo to meet with her natural doctors because she believed they could help him. She was appalled that he would not even consider it when she took the time to give him their numbers. It never once occurred to her that he was quite happy with his medical care and that he was not in the market for medical advice from someone who is not a doctor. I found it rude and presumptuous. If someone asks you for a medical recommendation and you have a good one, offer it up. If not, don’t assume that they are not seeing a good doctor and become hateful and judgmental when they are not interested in your advice.

What about a more natural remedy instead of medical remedies?

I get that people have all sorts of beliefs and that they want to help, but most people dealing with medical trauma, special needs and other medical issues are not interested in the medical advice of anyone who is not a licensed doctor.

I would die if I had to live with a special needs child. You’re so strong.

Listen; you’d do it. It’s what parents do. But really, that’s kind of a rude statement to make. Maybe you think you would, and that’s fine. But what other parents hear is, “Your life must totally suck, and I cannot believe you want to keep living it,” and that’s not awesome.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images


Leave a Reply