Dear Molly: What's the Right Way to Ask about a Special Needs Child?
Being a parent of a special needs child is hard. It’s harder than being a parent to a typical child. I know because I was a parent to a typical child first. When my second child was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder with no cure, my world changed. Friends disappeared. The ones who stayed always wanted to hear that my child was doing better. I would respond, “Better than what?” That sort of response doesn’t keep friends coming back to you. But that’s my truth.
Recently, I was approached about answering some questions from my perspective to help parents of “typicals” understand our children better. I’m going to do my best to speak on behalf of the special needs parents. Here we go.
There is a special needs child in my daughter’s class and my daughter has a lot of questions about him. I really have no insight into his condition but don’t feel comfortable brushing off her questions, which are innocent enough and come more from a place of curiosity than judgment. What’s the best approach? Should I ask the special needs mom about her son’s condition, parent to parent, and relay the information back in a kid-friendly way? Is that too forward and intrusive? Should I tell my daughter to ask the child directly, just like she would any other question? Maybe he’d like to talk about it?? I know every person is different in how they would like to be approached, but what’s a good way to be able to respond to my daughter while being sensitive to the other family?
Thanks in advance!
That is such a good question and to be honest, I feel the same way. Being a parent of a special needs child we have this radar that can spot another special needs child immediately. Sometimes we can spot them when their own parent is in denial (a story for another time). I also wonder how to approach another parent. Here’s what I would do in that situation: Approach the parent about their child, saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed your son has a shadow/aid at school. My daughter was wondering why and I would love to tell her, but could use your advice on how to explain it to her.”
The parent might respond with, “Thanks so much for asking. You can tell her his brain works differently than hers, therefore, he needs a little more help.” That should break the ice for you then to ask, “Thank you. Does he like to talk about it?” Varying responses may include, depending on the child’s age and what they know about their condition, “You know, Mikey doesn’t know that he’s different, he’s too young to understand. So your daughter shouldn’t treat him any differently than she would another boy in her class.” Or for children who may know what’s going on, “Sara understands that her brain works differently, but we don’t make it a big deal around her and just treat her like everyone else.”
The take-away answer is: Have your child treat the special needs child like they would anyone else. Explain to them that these children just want to fit in and are doing the best they can with what they have available to them. They want to play, they want to be your friend, they just may have a different way of showing it, and that’s okay.
Thanks for asking!
If you have any questions you’ve wanted to ask a special needs mom but have been afraid to, please leave them in the comment section.