In Part 1 of my post titled, 12 Things NOT to Say to a Parent of a Child With Special Needs, I shared a list of 12 comments and questions that have been said to me about my son. In the midst of writing that post, I understood that I needed to write a follow-up article, giving alternative language to use, for each inappropriate statement or question that was made.
So here it is!
DON’T SAY: What’s “wrong” with him? What’s “wrong” with her?
SAY: Would you mind sharing your child’s diagnosis?
WHY? When the word “wrong” is used it implies that something is unsuitable or undesirable about a person with special needs. There is nothing “wrong” with people who have special needs. They are just individuals who perform tasks differently.
DON’T SAY: Is he or she on the slow side or the smart side of autism? Is he or she smart like the guy in the movie, Rain Man?
SAY: Do you mind sharing your child’s level of functioning?
WHY? To imply that someone is slow is to say that they have reduced intellectual capacity. Also, to stereotype an individual as being smart like the character in a movie is an incorrect depiction of autism. It actually, shows a lack of knowledge about the diagnosis. Perhaps learning about a person’s level of independence will help you understand their abilities, instead of labeling them “slow” or “smart.”
DON’T SAY: “Poor Baby!” “I feel sorry for you.” “He’s both deaf and blind, what a sad life.”
SAY: “I have compassion for you.” “I sympathize with you.”
WHY? Terms such as, “poor baby” or “I feel sorry for you,” give a sense of pity. Pity conveys an unfavorable opinion of the circumstance of others. People don’t want to be pitied. It is best to have compassion, which is a genuine concern and a willingness to learn about the person with special needs. It also shows a desire to help when needed.
DON’T SAY: Did you know that he was going to be “born like that,” when you were pregnant?
SAY: When did you learn of your child’s diagnosis?
WHY? This type of question should be handled with care, as some parents do not want to discuss their child’s diagnosis at all, or in great detail. It is important to be wise and sensitive when asking this question. However, if there is a need to ask, using the words “born like that,” is insensitive and rude. Instead, use words that are delicate and show care, concern, and respect to the parent and the child.
DON’T SAY: Why does he look like that? Does he always make that noise or sound? Can he stop?
SAY: Do you mind sharing the characteristics of your child’s diagnosis?
WHY? To ask why someone “looks like that” or “makes that sound” is insensitive and downright rude. With all the ways to locate information, it would be wise to learn about diagnosis by asking and researching online to familiarize yourself with any characteristics. This will help you gain a better understanding of the individual with special needs and show respect and a willingness to learn about the diagnosis.
DON’T SAY: You must have been devastated or upset when that happened?
SAY: How did you feel about your child’s diagnosis?
WHY? Don’t assume that the parents were devastated or upset. It is best to inquire about someone’s feelings, before asking a question that prejudges feelings.
DON’T SAY: You need to “pray more” so your child can be healed?
SAY: Do you mind if I pray for you? I am praying for you.
WHY? Telling a parent that they should pray for their child “more” makes the suggestion that they are not praying. And if they are not praying, whatever they are doing is not working. It can also sound self-righteous and mean, as if praying harder will heal the child completely of their diagnosis. Beware of assuming that a parent is not praying or their prayers are not enough to evoke a healing from God.
And in conclusion to these 12 things that should not be said, I would like to reinstate, what I wrote in Part 1 of this article. This post was not meant to shame people who have used language to address me or other parents of children with special needs. I am fully aware that we all have or can use language that we are not certain is offensive or correct when addressing others. It is my intention in writing this post, so that it will bring awareness, and help people to use language that is more effective and conveys compassion, concern, respect and love toward those who have special needs.