Think Before You Speak
9 Things Never to Say to a Parent of a Special Needs Child
4. "He'll catch up." "As a parent of a 4-year-old with the vocabulary of a 9 to 12-month-old, hearing this is similar to nails on a chalkboard," says Vanek. "He physically cannot speak. While I certainly hope he can someday, hearing that he'll catch up doesn't help, especially when we've had him in speech therapy for the past three years." Children with intellectual disabilities will have many accomplishments, says Hartwell-Walker, but it's unlikely they all will "catch up" to their typical peers. "When confronted with that statement, a parent has to explain what may be a painful truth." Instead, suggests Ehlert, ask about their child's unique abilities and interests. "What are her hobbies? What's her favorite book?"
5. "You should take care of yourself so you can take care of him." While it's true that any mom needs to look after herself as well as her family, suggesting an unrealistic getaway or "me time" can be presumptuous—and offensive. "I'd love a trip to the spa or a week when I don't have to coordinate hours of therapy around my family's schedule," says Vanek. "But it's not realistic. And I don't think I'm less of a parent for putting my child's needs ahead of my own desire for a pedicure." If you sense your friend can't get away, offer to pick up some of the slack for her. Hartwell-Walker suggests that friends take on carpool duties, make meals now and then or babysit so that the parents can enjoy a date night. "It's a cliché, but it really does take a village. Help without an expectation of reciprocity provides a family with much needed respite."
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