Dear Diary,

Parents of children with special needs are often inundated with opinions about our children and how we raise them. We get opinions from doctors, therapists, school officials, friends, family and even complete strangers. Everyone seems to have something to say about our children. I often hear other special needs parents say, “You have to have a thick skin. You can’t pay attention to what people say.” Some even tell me to turn it into a teachable moment. That’s easier said than done. Trust me, I know. I have tried teaching others about my autistic son. Still I think it is important for me to help people keep their mouths closed in certain instances.  Here are 10 things you shouldn’t say to parents of special needs children.

 1. She looks so normal.

What are you basing this on? Some disabilities, like autism, are not visible. It is better to not make assumptions.

2. You are being paranoid.

Children with special needs are labeled, because they are not developing at the same rate of their peers. Making comparisons and being dismissive is not helpful or supportive.

3. I can’t believe your child isn’t potty trained.

Some children with developmental disabilities take a longer time to be potty trained. Their cognitive development is not on par with their physical development. So a child can be 10-years old and still need to wear pull ups to bed. Is this a skill that needs to be worked on? Yes. Is it something that the parent needs to be shamed about? No.

4. I am so sorry that your child has [insert disability here].

Pity is one thing that parents of children with special needs don’t need. We do not need you to feel sorry for us. Want to help? Be a source of support for us and our families.

5. Just give him a good spanking, and he will behave.

Oh really? It is always best when discipline for children with special needs includes behavioral interventions that reinforce good behavior. Spanking is not the answer here.

6. You are seeking attention.

The attention-seeking behavior that you think we are displaying is simply us venting and looking for emotional support. Sometimes parenting can be tough. I know special-needs parenting is hard. Empathy goes a long way here. So avoid telling someone to stop complaining.

7. Your child will never amount to anything.

If anyone ever says this to a parent of a child with special needs, then that parent has a right to cut that person off or at least keep them at a far distance.

8. I don’t understand why you just can’t [insert uninformed parenting strategy here].

You are right. You do not understand. Parenting strategies differ across the board. It is certainly not helpful to impose my view on how anyone parents their child and I expect the same for mine.

9. This is just a phase. She will grow out of it.

No, it is not a phase. Developmental disabilities are not magically cured. Intense interventions and services can minimize symptoms but to some degree they will always be there.

10. Are you sure that you did not do something to cause your child’s disability?

The last thing we need is you making us feel guilty about what caused our child’s disability. Trust me this question is nowhere near helpful.

Hey DFTM Fam–Has anyone ever said any of the above statements you? How did you react? Have you ever said something on this list?

Kpana Kpoto (Miz Kp) is a a mother, wife, family educator and disability advocate. She blogs about her journey raising a son with autism at Sailing Autistic Seas.  Kpana is also the co-founder of a Bronx-based support group for parents raising kids with autism.

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