A few years ago, I attended a conference for parents of children with special needs. As the keynote speaker addressed the audience, there was a moment in her message where she explained that parents of children with special needs should stop apologizing for their children. She had noticed that parents feel a need to seek forgiveness for their child’s disability, their behavior, actions, inability to communicate, and more. She then sternly shouted…..
“Stop apologizing for your child with special needs.”
At first I was a little confused by her remarks. Yet, as she spoke, I had to ask myself that very question. Am I apologetic about Nate’s disability? Do I tell people “I’m sorry” when Nate does something that others may not think is “normal?” And after I apologize, do I feel the need to explain the reason for Nate’s actions? The answer to those questions was “Yes.” I did this often, more than I recognized.
I could recall occasions when Nate and I were in a store and he would make noise, self-stimming, and become overly excited. I would immediately try to calm him down, as I would say to onlookers, “I’m sorry, he has special needs.”
When Nate was younger and we attended church, he would become excited during the service and make “raspberry noises.” This would cause people to look in our direction. And there I was, once again, apologizing, before we slipped out of the sanctuary, so Nate wouldn’t be a distraction.
Throughout Nate’s life, I could recount many times saying, “I’m sorry, my son has special needs.” I apologized for Nate’s behavior on the bus, at his doctor’s appointments, in a restaurant, and more. It was something I felt I needed to do, as if I owed people an explanation.
And why was I apologetic?” Couldn’t people see that my child had special needs? “Why did I have to say I’m sorry?” “Why did I feel the need to explain that my child had special needs?” I don’t know why.
From that moment on, I decided that I was no longer going to apologize for who Nate was. He is being himself, so there is no need for me to say I am sorry or explain that my son has special needs. This is who Nate is and there is no need to apologize.