Help! My Friend has a Child with Special Needs!

There are so many rants and articles and blogs floating around today with a title like, ’20 things never to say to a new mother/single dad/parent of a large family/pitbull owner/diabetic/vaxxer/anti-vaxxer/breastfeeding mother… etc etc etc.’ And let me tell you, some of those are utterly warrented. Sometimes, especially on the internet, we engage our mouth (or keyboard) before we engage our brain. Or, to quote my dear, sweet grandmother, “That man just opens his mouth and stupid falls out!” 

Sometimes I open my mouth, and stupid falls out. Once I was introduced to a little girl and a dog at the same time. Their names were Savannah and Winter. I later addressed the little girl as Savannah… and much to my chagrin, discovered that was actually the dog’s name. (I’m all for unusual names, but c’mon, make it easy on the rest of us and give your dog a dog name. I would never have assumed the little girl’s name was “Fluffy”)

So we all have these verbal glitches, but one of the hardest things is when someone is in a situation that you yourself have never experienced. And I’m struck by the need for some friendly guidance because of the vast amount of misinformation there is on the internet and elsewhere about my child’s medical condition, so although some of these my be diabetes-specific, they really apply to any parent with a child needing above-average care. 

Don’t say: “What did you do to cause it?” or even worse, “You obviously caused it by doing ______.” 

Instead, if you must comment on cause, ask: “Do the doctors know why?”

Reason: We live, breathe, and sleep our child’s needs. It’s a 24/7 deal. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to tell somebody what’s going on. It’s NEVER nice to be blamed or guilted. Trust me, we’ve already been through anything we could have done differently in our head. 

Don’t say: “I couldn’t deal with that.”

Instead, say: “That must be so hard. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Reason: Well, duh, it’s hard. But if I don’t deal with it, (in my case, giving daily injections and/or glucose checks) my child dies. Don’t tell me you couldn’t, because if it was your kid, you would soldier through, just like me. 

Don’t say: “Your normal kids…”

There’s no “instead”. Just don’t. Seriously, my four-year-old has better manners than that. 

Don’t ask: “Can he/she do ______?”

Instead, ask: “Is there anything today that he/she shouldn’t participate in?”

Reason: We’re a little touchy about our kids. If we think someone is putting limits on them, we can get very defensive, very fast. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. We’ll try to let you know if there’s something they need to sit out, but more than anything, we and they just want to be normal. 

If you are comfortable with it, uask if the parent would like a break sometime. Offer to learn enough about the care to babysit for an hour or so. 

Offer to get together, and come to them. Especially with toddlers, disrupting the routine is even more explosive when there are higher needs involved. (Bonus points: Bring coffee)

Listen. Sometimes we are going to sound like a broken record. Sometimes that’s what our life feels like. 

Remember: They’re just kids. They need the same amount of love, respect, nurturing, and dicipline that other kids do, they just need a little more, besides. I’m not a better parent, or a worse parent, because my child needs little more attention. It just means I need a little more coffee. 

Themes