The Proper Etiquette Guide to Gawking at My Special Needs Family


When gawking at a family with a child who has special needs, please remember to do the following:

1. Be sure to wear a disgusted look on your face. This will help the family to feel at ease with the situation.

2. Walk right on up to the family and stand within their personal space without saying a word. Don’t forget about #1!

3. When walking by a child with special needs, make sure you do a double-take so that you can get a better look. Don’t worry, the family won’t see you!

4. Shush your child who openly asks an innocent question and turn him or her away ashamedly. Then do #3 when your child isn’t looking.

5. Inviting additional family members to your gawk spot is always welcomed. Just make sure you call for them loudly enough that the family of the child being gawked at can hear you!

Yes, this is all rather tongue-in-cheek — and these are all situations we’ve encountered thus far in our short time of having our daughter, Abby, out in public. Seriously, though, I hope people will consider how they would like to be treated if they were in this situation. Sometimes, I just get tired of being a spectacle. Don’t I have every right to take my child to the boardwalk and enjoy some time as a family?

This may not be the feeling of every parent of a child with special needs, but I would venture to say that most feel the same way we do: If you have a question, just ask. We are open books and love to tell people about the miracles being performed on our daughter! I would much prefer to answer a question than to have people catching flies with their gaping mouths. I feel like it’s much more polite to ask a genuine question than to “sneak a peek,” do the double-take (which I always catch!), or — the worst — openly stare in horror at our situation. Don’t you think we know that having a child on a ventilator is not a good thing?

We encountered a few Boy Scouts the other day who asked some wonderful questions about Abby’s tubes. We so appreciated their openness and willingness to ask about her instead of just staring. 

I’m not putting anyone down, and I don’t mean to condemn. I’ve been there. I used to be the one to shush my son when he asked why that man is in a wheelchair. I will even admit to doing the double-take. I never meant any harm by it, and neither do most people (the gaping-in-horror woman might have…), but I would encourage everyone to really consider how they would like to be treated in this situation. If you need some real-life experience, come hang out with us one Friday night on the boardwalk. I think our friends had a real eye-opener.

Because really, all we want is just to blend in with the crowd.

Follow this journey on Life as a Leach.

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