Disability Etiquette: What to Say and What Not to Say

Give the gift of disability etiquette this Christmas. Here's what not to say and what to say instead to parents of kids with special needs.

Compassionate disability etiquette is a gift parents of kids with special needs love to receive. Today Different Dream welcomes guest blogger Trish Shaeffer is here to share what she’s learned about disability etiquette as mom to 1 typical child as well as twins with special needs. Read on to learn how to give the gift of disability etiquette during the Christmas season.

Disability Etiquette: What to Say and What Not to Say

Comments made by other adults often catch parents of children with disabilities off guard. Inappropriate words bring up many emotions, and parents find it really hard to have a reply to them. Language is a powerful tool that can cause great harm if used unwisely. Generally, people aren’t unfeeling. Rather they are unthinking. They need to be challenged to approach children’s disabilities in a more positive and sensitive way. Below are several negative comments followed by positive ones that are examples of disability etiquette.

Disability Etiquette: What Not to Say
  1. I’m sorry to hear that. Having a child with a disability should not be viewed as a disappointment or loss that requires an apology.
  2. Whats wrong your child? There is nothing wrong.
  3. Poor little thing. Parents want their child empowered, not pitied.
  4. Have you tried__________________? The chances of you knowing more about the disability than a parent are slim. They probably have exhausted every treatment out there.
  5. But your child doesn’t look sick. Many children with special needs are not sick. They have lifelong developmental disorders like autism, which are not an illness.
  6. Your child makes me realize how lucky I am. Those words suggests that the child and parent are unlucky.
  7. I don’t know how you cope. Nor do we. But our children are our priority. If society was more aware of how difficult parenting a child with disabilities can be, there might be more accessible help available.
  8. At least your other children are okay? What makes a child okay? The fact that they can talk? Or have full range of movement? Many disabled children are far better at communicating and being mobile then most neuro-typical children.
  9. Is it a degenerative condition? Some children who have disabilities have a shorter life span. But the constant reminder is at best unhelpful, and the worst unkind.
  10. So your child gets out and about then? People with disabilities like and enjoy many of the same things all people do.
  11. Is it genetic? Only family members have the right to ask this question.
  12. Your child grow out of it, right? Most do not outgrow disabilities such as cerebral palsy.
  13. Did you cause your child to be in a wheelchair? What would possess someone to ask this?
  14. Wow, you must be busy! This comment comes across as condescending to parents doing what they must to survive.
  15. Did you do drugs or smoke during pregnancy? This question simply shouldn’t be asked.
  16. You’re overreacting! or If you would only spank your child! These statements suggest the parent is ignorant, stupid, lazy or incompetent.
  17. You should be glad it’s not worse! or You shouldn’t feel like that.  These statements mean “I don’t want to be bothered with your problems.”
  18. Is your child retarded?  Never use the R word! It’s rude and incorrect language to use to describe a child with learning disabilities or a developmental delay.
Disability Etiquette: What to Say
  1. Wow, I didn’t realize that. Your child looks amazing. You must be so proud.
  2. You must have worked really hard because your child is amazing.
  3. What caused your child’s challenges?
  4. How is your child doing? What’s being worked on in therapy this week?
  5. What are your child’s hobbies?
  6. I like your child’s braces.
  7. You’re such a great caregiver.
  8. How are you holding up?
  9. I like that wheelchair.
  10. How can I help?
  11. What kinds of therapy does your child enjoy?
  12. Did your child have fun at school?
  13. Your child has a beautiful smile.
  14. My little boy likes trucks, too.
  15. That’s tough.
  16. Do you need help getting the wheelchair into your car? Do you need help carrying your groceries out?
  17. Wow! I cant believe how far your child has come.
  18. Your child is so good at ____________________.
  19. Your child really loves you.
  20. Your child has taught me so much.
  21. I brought wine! I had to add that. Couldn’t help myself.
  22. I think your kid is great!
  23. Your child is lucky to have you as a parent.
  24. I don’t know much about your child’s condition. Can you suggest some reading for me to educate myself?
  25. You are so patient.

Do you see a trend? Negative responses can be turned into positive and helpful ones. Remember, parents may react differently, so pick a good time to bring something positive. Look past the disability and and treat the child like a child. Too often parents of kids with special needs experience negativity. They need a positive lift. You have the power to make their day.

IMG_2600Trish Shaeffer mom of 3 active boys, a 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins who were born 2 months early and have special needs. She’s a peer supporter for Parent to Parent and volunteers with the United Cerebral Palsy Network, Special Olympics, and the United Way. She’s also an equine volunteer at Leg Up Farm. She’s married to her best friend and biggest supporter, Chris Schaeffer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Give the gift of disability etiquette this Christmas. Here's what not to say and what to say instead to parents of kids with special needs.

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4 Comments

  1. December 7, 2016    

    These are wonderful tips. Thanks for the great suggestions.

  2. December 7, 2016    

    I’m glad they were helpful to you, Shari!

  3. December 10, 2016    

    I love these suggestions. As an adult with disabilities, I get asked and told many of these same inappropriate things. I liked your wording of the things that one can say.

  4. December 12, 2016    

    Astrid, I count that as high praise coming from you and will pass it on to Trish. Thanks! Jolene

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.

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