12 Things NOT to Say to a Parent of a Child With Special Needs – (Part 1)

12 Things Not to Say to a Parent of a Child With Special Needs (Part 1)
4 min read

I wrote a blog post a week ago, titled, Learning About People with Disabilities (Part 1 & 2), in which I detailed, how I learned about people with disabilities.  I received a comment from a fellow blogger DeBorah Palmer (check out her site), who has a brother, Steven, with special needs. In her comment, she shared what people have asked about her brother…

“Is he smart, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man? Is he able to do math really good?

As I read the post, I annoyingly laughed, as I could relate, to being asked that same “insensitive or stupid” question.  However, mine was worded differently.

“Is he slow or smart like the guy in the Rain Man?”

Hummm!!! There is just something about that question that doesn’t feel or sound right?

So, of course, as my mind works, I decided to write about this very thing. I quickly jotted down things people SHOULD NOT SAY TO PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS (and yes, I’m screaming).

As I wrote, the the short list became long, extremely long.  So, I decided tonarrow it down to 12 things that people have asked me or said to me in the past 22 years of my child’s life.  Perhaps some people can relate, as well to these things….

1- “What’s Wrong with him?”
2- Is he on the slower side of autism or the smarter side of autism?
3- Is he smart, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man? Is he able to do math really good?
4- “Poor Baby!” (In that voice that makes it sound as if my son’s life is over)
5- “I feel sorry for you and him.”
6- “He’s both deaf and blind! What a sad life!”
7- “Did you know that he was going to be, “Born like that”, while you were pregnant.” (I actually wrote a blog post about this)
8- “If you would have known that he was going to be, “Born Like that”, would you have had him?”
9- “Why does He look like that?”
10- Does he always make that noise? Can he stop making that noise?
11 – “You must be upset and devastated that this happened?”
12- “You need to pray for your son “more”, so he can be healed.”

Grrrrrr! (Yes, I’m saying this as I’m typing)

As I reviewed these “12 things NOT to say”, I can clearly recall the feeling when they were said to me. Number 4, 5, and 6, were actually said by a psychologist who was evaluating Nate for wraparound services. Her face seemed to be sympathetic, but her words felt condescending and hurtful. After the evaluation ended, I walked to my car feeling horrible, as I pushed Nate in his stroller. I turned to Nate’s Behavior Specialist and loudly asked, “Did that woman really say that? What does she mean…what a sad life? My life isn’t sad.” Suffice to say, I requested a new psychologist who was less demeaning and more sensitive.

And, please understand, that I am not listing these questions or remarks, to shame others. Not at all! This post is about awareness. Perhaps the person who said these things did not know how their remarks sound or feel to the person on the receiving end. Or just maybe, people are not aware of the correct language to use and how it should be conveyed.

Yet, now that I have brought this issue to the forefront, it is the responsibility of everyone to choose their words correctly.  Being careful not to use language that is offensive, but sensitive to parents of children with special needs.

Read Next: 12 Things NOT to Say to a Parent of a Child With Special Needs – (Part 2) – What to Say? 


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  1. 1
    June "JD" Wilson

    Well said and love the emotions (All CAPS YELLING). But why do I feel that the people who need to see this post may not??

    I have have seen similar posts listing what not to say to women who have a miscarriage or someone who has had a death in the family. All excellent. You would think people in general (and especially Christians) would have better, thoughtful, more sensitive and loving things to say! Or or sometimes people should learn not to say anything.

    On that note, could you include examples of what people *should* say in your part 2?

    • 2

      Thank you June for your comment. And yes, Part 2 is definitely, what people should say. That will be posted on Thursday. It’s in my drafts, awaiting major editing. LOL!!!

  2. 3

    Hi Charlene! I’ve shared this on my personal FB site. As a mom with a child with Aspergers and Tourettes, and part of a circle of friends who know/have/work with special needs children, I find your blog wonderful.

    Keep it up!!

  3. 6

    Thanks for the Shout Out!! Sometimes I don’t know whether most people are just rude, ignorant or uninformed or all three combined. Inside I’m seething at their dumb stupid comments but I’ve learned to pick my battles. Most times I just walk away if possible. It’s best not to engage fools especially since I have a bad temper.

    Another idiotic remark was from a Social Security employee while I was helping Stephen to get his SSI and Medicaid. Now this is years ago before Personal Computers and the Web so we had to go there in person for a face to face interview. At one point the Social Security intake person asked me, “Is his condition permanent?”

    At the time I thought that was a dumb question especially since back in the 1980s a disabled person had to see one of the SSI Federal govt doctors in order to qualify for and receive SSI and Medicaid. Maybe I’m too sensitive but I did and still do this was an odd question. Kinda like asking an amputee or a person born without limbs if their arms and legs will grow out in the future!!

    • 7

      A shout out to you is warranted. That comment prompted that post. It is amazing how your comment evoked so many thoughts about my own life with Nate. I had SSI issues a few years ago, when I applied for Nate. That could be post in itself. I applied online, yet you go in for an appt. and there was the attitude and insensitivity of the worker. I called the supervisor, who gave me another worker, who made excuses for them being understaffed and filled with work. However, that was no way to address me about my child. It as CRAZY!! I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to conduct sensitivity training.

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