In my almost 20 years as the mom of a severely autistic daughter, I’ve been questioned, judged, accepted, ignored, loved, rejected, and just about everything in between! I’ve also learned a lot. One of the things I like to do whenever possible is help and support other moms of special needs kids. But lately, I’ve realized that a great way to help special needs moms is to share some of my own experiences with moms who don’t have special needs kids and who might feel uncomfortable or not know how to react and respond to those of us who do. So today I’m sharing with you a few tips and ideas that I hope will be helpful.
First, please try not to judge us or our children. Thankfully, most people are pretty understanding. There are those, however, who are less than understanding and a few who are downright rude. When my daughter throws a fit in Wal-Mart, it’s not because she’s spoiled. It’s because she has a hard time with crowds, is over-stimulated by all of the products and all of the noise around her, and she isn’t able to tolerate waiting in line very long. But I feel like it’s important for her to go with me now and then because, just like you, I run out of milk and eggs sometimes, and I can’t always find a sitter so I can go to the store. For that reason, she needs to stay in the habit of going with me when it’s absolutely necessary. It’s not much fun for either of us, but it has to happen once in a while.
Second, please don’t act like our kids have the plague. Our kids are people just like other kids even though they may look and act different. We know you’re a little nervous around them because you’re not certain what they may say or do. But it hurts our feelings (and probably our kids’ feelings too) when you intentionally avoid being around us or go the other way when you see us coming. It hurts when we see your nervous stare as we pass by. Can you please just smile as we go by and maybe even say hello? It’s ok to look at us as long as you smile. Really.
Third, please don’t talk to our children like they’re babies (unless, of course, they are babies), but please do talk to them. My daughter is almost 20 years old. Even if you’re not sure, please talk to her as if she understands what you’re saying (she does). She may not respond, but she hears you. Even though she’s non-verbal and won’t answer you, I’m sure she enjoys knowing that you took the time and made the effort to include her in your greeting, and I appreciate it too.
Fourth, it’s ok to ask about our kids, but please be polite. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with your daughter?” which happens more than you might think, please say something more like, “What’s your daughter’s diagnosis?” or, “Does your daughter have a diagnosis?” I don’t mind answering questions about her, but I feel much better about it when I feel like you’re asking in a polite way.
Fifth, there are times when we may have more trouble than usual being cheerful and carrying on with a smile, so please try to be understanding and supportive. For example, our kids’ birthdays can be especially hard for us. When our kids are still getting stuffed animals and blocks for their 16th birthdays, it’s hard for us not to be a little bit sad about it. (I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give our kids those things if that’s what they like. It’s still hard for us, though, to acknowledge that they’re at the stuffed-animals-and-blocks-developmental-level when they’re teenagers.) We’ve dreamed of our children one day being able to do things that are age-appropriate instead of appropriate to their developmental levels, yet we know that day may never come. So if we choose not to make birthdays a big deal or if we seem a little bit sad, just be supportive and kind.
Sixth, please resist the urge to tell us that “God gives special children to special parents.” We appreciate the sentiment, and we know you mean it as a compliment, but most of us don’t believe that God loved us so much that He “zapped” our kids. Yes, God loves us. That’s true! But we don’t believe that He’s showing us how much He loves us by giving our kids life-long physical or mental illnesses. Bad things happen to all of us even though God loves us all very much! Because Adam and Eve sinned and we live in a fallen world, sicknesses and injuries happen. So whether or not you agree, please just don’t say it. Trust me.
Finally, please don’t tell us that you understand. We know you mean well…really we do. But the honest truth is that you don’t understand because you can’t. And that’s ok. We don’t expect you to understand. All we really want is for you to let us cry if we need to. Let us be sad for a while if we need to. Let us know that you love us and that you’re there for us. You can’t take away the heartache or change our circumstances, but you can help us bear them. You can be our friends and love us just as we are. And we will love you for it.
On the inside, most moms just want the best for their children whether they have special needs or not. We moms and our kids are all better off when we support each other, and it’s my prayer that these tips I’ve shared may be helpful.
If you have any tips to share, please leave them in the comments!