I wrote a blog post a week ago, titled, Learning About People with Disabilities (Part 1 & 2), in which I detailed, how I learned about people with disabilities. I received a comment from a fellow blogger DeBorah Palmer (check out her site), who has a brother, Steven, with special needs. In her comment, she shared what people have asked about her brother…
“Is he smart, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man? Is he able to do math really good?
As I read the post, I annoyingly laughed, as I could relate, to being asked that same “insensitive or stupid” question. However, mine was worded differently.
“Is he slow or smart like the guy in the Rain Man?”
Hummm!!! There is just something about that question that doesn’t feel or sound right?
So, of course, as my mind works, I decided to write about this very thing. I quickly jotted down things people SHOULD NOT SAY TO PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS (and yes, I’m screaming).
As I wrote, the the short list became long, extremely long. So, I decided tonarrow it down to 12 things that people have asked me or said to me in the past 22 years of my child’s life. Perhaps some people can relate, as well to these things….
1- “What’s Wrong with him?”
2- Is he on the slower side of autism or the smarter side of autism?
3- Is he smart, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man? Is he able to do math really good?
4- “Poor Baby!” (In that voice that makes it sound as if my son’s life is over)
5- “I feel sorry for you and him.”
6- “He’s both deaf and blind! What a sad life!”
7- “Did you know that he was going to be, “Born like that”, while you were pregnant.” (I actually wrote a blog post about this)
8- “If you would have known that he was going to be, “Born Like that”, would you have had him?”
9- “Why does He look like that?”
10- Does he always make that noise? Can he stop making that noise?
11 – “You must be upset and devastated that this happened?”
12- “You need to pray for your son “more”, so he can be healed.”
Grrrrrr! (Yes, I’m saying this as I’m typing)
As I reviewed these “12 things NOT to say”, I can clearly recall the feeling when they were said to me. Number 4, 5, and 6, were actually said by a psychologist who was evaluating Nate for wraparound services. Her face seemed to be sympathetic, but her words felt condescending and hurtful. After the evaluation ended, I walked to my car feeling horrible, as I pushed Nate in his stroller. I turned to Nate’s Behavior Specialist and loudly asked, “Did that woman really say that? What does she mean…what a sad life? My life isn’t sad.” Suffice to say, I requested a new psychologist who was less demeaning and more sensitive.
And, please understand, that I am not listing these questions or remarks, to shame others. Not at all! This post is about awareness. Perhaps the person who said these things did not know how their remarks sound or feel to the person on the receiving end. Or just maybe, people are not aware of the correct language to use and how it should be conveyed.
Yet, now that I have brought this issue to the forefront, it is the responsibility of everyone to choose their words correctly. Being careful not to use language that is offensive, but sensitive to parents of children with special needs.