"What's wrong with your son?" That's the question a friend, whose son has special needs, was asked recently. Imagine being asked that about your kid. This is the sort of things parents of kids with special needs deal with fairly regularly -- be it on the playground when someone sees the eyes of a child with Down Syndrome or in the grocery store when a child with autism is having a meltdown.
The good news? Not everyone is trying to be a jerk. Some people just have a bad case of foot in mouth disease that seems to break out around kids with special needs.
So how do we bridge the gap? How do we satisfy people's curiosity without making a child feel like a science project?
More from The Stir: What Special Needs Moms Do All Day
We asked some parents of kids with special needs what they WISH people who ask or say ... instead of a lecture or an insensitive comment.
1. Is there something I can help you with? -- This is a great one when a kid is melting down in the grocery store. Don't shoot nasty looks or slink away. Offer to help! Maybe Mom or Dad has it under control, but a little "we're all in it together" mentality goes a long way!
2. How is he/she liking school? -- Shannon Rosa's son has autism, but the editor of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism is sick of being pitied and patronized. And so is her son. She'd rather hear a question about life ... instead of his diagnosis!
3. Wow, you seem happy/curious, etc. -- Say this one to the child, says Carol Greenburg, a mom of a son with autism who also has autism. That way the child can decide how THEY want to respond. After all, the child's diagnosis is their business too, and maybe they don't want Mom to disclose it. "I'm just fine talking about my own autism, but I'm not sure what my son's boundaries are when it comes to disclosure," says Carol.
4. Hi there! -- Again, simply talking to a child, whether it relates to their behavior or not is important to a mom. As Tina Evans, whose son has cerebral palsy explained to The Stir, ""I don't even mind if they inquire about his 'disability,' but I always want them to actively engage with him."
5. Hi there! -- I know, I just mentioned that. But this time, it's for the mom. "I recommend they simply strike up a conversation instead," says mom Leigh Merryday, who blogs about raising a son on the autism spectrum at Flappiness Is. "They'd be surprised what they'll learn from just that."
6. Do you need back-up? -- A mom of a child on the autism spectrum recalls getting this comment from a kind dad just as a not-so-kind stranger was giving her a lecture about her son's behavior. "That was probably the most helpful thing anyone could have said, and I suspect that he had a special needs child of his own," the mom told us.
What do YOU wish people said to you or your special needs child?
Image via Tim & Selena Middleton/Flickr