What NOT to Say to Moms of Children with Special Needs

Moms of children with special needs receive an abundance of advice and comments, much of the time from people who have little to no understanding of their child’s situation. Most people mean well, but often their comments miss the mark and are the opposite of helpful. I surveyed a large group of moms whose children have a wide variety of special needs :: food allergies, developmental and speech delays, sensory processing disorder, autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Mitochondrial Disease, and more. I asked these moms what phrases and sentiments should never be shared with a mother of a child with any type of special need or disability. Here’s what they said…

Please Don’t Say ::

God doesn’t give you more than you can handlePSA :: This is the WORST. Aside from it being theologically incorrect, it makes us feel like we should be able to handle it all, when a lot of the time, we feel as if we are drowning.

He doesn’t look sick or But she looks so normal. Disabilities and illnesses are not always visible. Please don’t dismiss our children’s struggles because you can’t see them. 

Special kids are only given to special parents. Not true. There is nothing uniquely special about us, and most of us didn’t enter into this journey with prior knowledge of what we would be facing. We love our kids, just like you. And just like you, we are flawed humans who sometimes struggle with parenting those kids we love. We don’t possess any parenting superpowers. 

I could never handle this. No way could I do what you do. Ummm, yes you could. If you had to, you would. Just like anything else in parenting, you do what you have to do because they are your children. Again, we don’t have superpowers, and most of us are figuring out this stuff as we go along. 

He just needs discipline, and he won’t act like that. or I would never put up with such behavior. or He needs a good spanking. This is extremely hurtful to parents who spend the majority of their physical and emotional energy working with “socially unacceptable” behaviors. Instead of berating a mom because you understand NOTHING about why her child acts the way he does, try having some grace and asking her how you can help her. 

I’m sure she will outgrow those allergies. You’re sure? Really? She may. But if she doesn’t, that’s okay too. And right now, here, in the present, a Goldfish cracker could kill her, so that’s my main concern. 

If you let him get hungry enough, he will eventually eat. Again, not true. There are children with illnesses who would literally starve themselves to death. Feeding tubes are a blessing. Don’t ever make a mother feel badly that her child needs one. 

Have you tried… [insert random remedy, essential oil, diet, etc]. Most of us spend half our lives in doctors’ offices or therapy centers and the other half on the internet. We are experts in our child and their disease or disability. If there is a legitimate therapy or treatment, we already know about it. Don’t try to cure our children with your latest MLM product or fad diet. 

I can’t believe you had another baby. Weren’t you scared your next one would have ______ too? First of all, my reproductive decisions are none of your business. But because you asked, yes, I was scared. But if my next baby was born sick, I would have loved her just as much. 

That sounds just like my kid! Has your kid been diagnosed with ______? No? Then this is probably not a good comparison to make. 

I’d love for you to bring him to a healing service at my church! Noooooo! Look, spirituality and prayer are important to a lot of us. We appreciate your prayers; really, we do. But something like this is a deeply personal choice, and most of us just wouldn’t feel comfortable. 

Maybe God is punishing you for something. Oh, shut up. 

You’re lucky your kid doesn’t talk. Mine won’t shut up! Don’t say this, even if you are just kidding. It’s deeply painful. I would give anything to have my son jabber on and on like yours. Anything. 

Must be nice to have your child’s medical bills 100% covered with government handouts. If you couldn’t afford kids you should never have had them. Yes, my child is on Medicaid, and yes, most {NOT all} of his medical expenses are covered. If they weren’t, we would literally be bankrupt. You have no idea how expensive it is to keep a medically fragile child alive. 

I have a neighbor whose kid has ______, and he turned out just fine. That’s awesome for your neighbor! 

What’s wrong with her? Nothing is “wrong” with her. She lives with a disability, a syndrome, etc. but she is so much more than that.  Instead, say “Tell me about your child.” 

At least it’s not _______. Please don’t diminish my child’s struggles by playing the Pain Olympics. Yes, it could always be worse. That doesn’t mean what my child and our family goes through isn’t hard. 

Moms of children with special needs need friends, allies, and support. While we don’t want you to walk on eggshells around us and always be afraid of saying the wrong thing, we do ask that you consider your words about our children carefully before you say them. 

Moms of children with special needs… What would you add to the list of What Not to Say? 

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One Response to What NOT to Say to Moms of Children with Special Needs

  1. Tera November 8, 2017 at 9:03 am #

    These are all 100% spot on! One thing I would have love to see added is “what TO say”! I’m afraid most people know much of what they say will not be appropriate, so they just stop talking to us altogether! It’s very isolating and hard to make new friends as parents of special needs/medically fragile children, it’s even more isolating when we lose the friends we already have! 🙁

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