7 Things you should never say to a parent of a special needs child

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Though they may not show it, these well-meaning phrases can actually be offensive to a parent whose child has special needs.

Though all parents can relate to the daily struggles of caring for and guiding their kids, parents of children with special needs—such as Down’s syndrome, ADHD, or Autism—face a unique set of challenges.

Yes, they face the same anxieties and joys of most parents, but it’s coupled with worrying what society constantly misunderstands about their children’s condition.

If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you’ve surely had to extend your patience when well-meaning friends—even, strangers—presume to know anything about what it’s really like.

If you’re a parent with friends who have special needs kids, here’s how you can be more sensitive and considerate when communicating with them. Here are 8 things you should never say to a special needs parent.

1. You’re so strong. How do you do it?

Though well-meaning in its intent, this may send the wrong signal. Sure, you may feel like you’re complimenting them, but it’s like you’re implying that their little one is such a burden and that you could not imagine how you would handle something like that.

2. I can’t believe he’s such a quick learner!

Just because a child has special needs doesn’t mean he’s a slow learner. Though learning difficulties are present in some conditions, this isn’t the case for all kids with special needs.

3. I’m so sorry

Often, when you don’t know what else to say, saying sorry for their situation can be the most ‘caring’ statement you can think of. But this can actually be hurtful, in some cases. It can show that you simply pity for the child and the parent. The best way to show your compassion is to engage in communication, asking them questions to better understand what life’s really like for them, without feeling sorry for them.

special needs dreamstime 7 Things you should never say to a parent of a special needs child

photo: dreamstime

Again, you may mean well in offering your time, effort, and resources. But saying this can offend some parents who are trying their best to care for and raise their special needs child the best way they can.

For instance, suggesting a doctor or relative in the medical field to give them a second opinion makes them feel their kid needs someone to “fix them.” Remember: the experience of each special needs child (and parent) is unique. If the parent does ask for help, then that’s when you can suggest.

5. She looks so normal

Though meant to comfort a parent, it implies that there is something abnormal in their child’s condition. They’ve surely worked hard to be able to give their child the same love, care, and opportunities as every other child, but commenting on how their child “looks” just like everyone else is not often taken as a compliment.

6. You’re so good at controlling his behavior

This is another compliment that can be taken the wrong way. It’s as if you’re saying that their little one needs to be “trained.” There are certain special needs conditions that affect impulse control, and though parents have their own way of teaching their special needs child to adjust to daily activities, hearing other parents trying to commend them can be frustrating.

7. Stop spoiling her

This “tough love” statement may be a little too tough. Special needs kids have special needs. Calling them out for being too lenient on their kids can make the parent feel judged, belittled, and blamed for tolerating their kid’s behavior. Though your intention may be to emphasize that a special needs kid be treated like any other child, you should be careful not to overdo it.

What other seemingly harmless but hurtful comments would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

sources: Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, Today’s Parent

READ: An open letter to my ‘special’ little guy: Don’t let anyone bring you down