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How to Talk to 'Special' Parents

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This would be one of those touchy subjects that people try to avoid. It is one of those proverbial elephants in the living room. Please know I’m not writing to offend. I’m writing to help others understand how to treat those who may have children that are a bit different than your child or my child.

First, we should consult Webster… such a smart chap.

Special: Adjective

1. Better, greater or otherwise different from what is usual.

2. Belonging specifically to particular person or place.

3. Designed or organized for a particular person or place.

WAIT! Special seems like a great word! Don’t tell me you are offended, Mrs. Autism Mama?!

Offended, not exactly. Cringing and feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up, yes.

I’m not sure what it is, but I think it is just a bad phrase. We don’t look at someone and say, “God only gives cancer to special people.” So why in the world would we say it to the parent of an autistic child or the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome? I lost my daughter in 2004 after she battled Congenital Heart Disease for nine long months. I heard similar phrases then.

“You and Allen are special people and God gave you a special child.” (Insert sigh here.) We are not special at all. We pushed through a horrible situation and we had LOADS of support and help. In private, the raw side of pain was ever present. The same applies today.

“God will not give you more than you can bear.” I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart, and I believe this statement… but it is not a comfort when walking in the darkness.

“You are so strong and courageous.” HAHAHAHA (sorry). I have a mad poker face. Anyone who knows me realizes that it is the face I wear 99 percent of the time. My strong face and what is happening inside me are two totally different things. I am probably one of the most emotionally drained individuals you will ever meet… but thanks to God, I managed then and I’m managing now.

Being the parent of a child with special needs is hard, people.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to put into words how hard it is seeing your child struggle. I understand that it is nearly impossible to understand the hardship of being this type of parent when you haven’t lived it. I get it. I don’t expect you to understand, but I do expect you to think before you speak. I do expect you to thank God every day for your perfectly typical child and not complain about how much they talk or annoy you. I do expect you to do research on autism rather than assume. And please, for the love of all things good and holy, do not tell me that my son acts exactly like Sally Jo’s son…. and oh yeah, he is 18 years old now and still doesn’t speak. So GOOD LUCK.

I do expect you to offer prayers rather than flimsy statements. I do expect you to be a friend if you truly are one. I don’t discount other struggles. I don’t think my struggle is harder than the struggle of someone watching their Mom die of some incurable disease. Trials are hard when they are happening, no matter what the situation. However, when your child is involved, it is truly heartbreaking. When you are raising a child with special needs, the future is terrifying and no amount of “special” parenting will take that fear away.

So what is the solution? The solution is simple. Be real. Tell the parents of these children what a good job they they are doing. Encourage them. Pray for them, frequently. More than that… pray for the child. Make these parents smile and laugh. Read about autism or the type of therapy the child is doing and educate yourself. Learn what makes the child happy and involve them. The parent and child will love you unconditionally for this simple deed.

Special needs parents are not special at all. They are simply parents. Can their road be tough? Absolutely. Just remember we are dealing with it. We have good days and bad days, just like others. We need your support, love and understanding. In reality, those are things that help us survive and thrive.

Special needs parents probably feel less special than you will ever imagine. They want their child to be loved, accepted, healed and helped. Their minds are consumed with the child or children they are caring for and the only thing driving them in most cases is the motherly instinct to help their child be all he/she can be considering the disability or syndrome.

This post originally appeared on Walking With Drake.

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Originally published: April 23, 2015
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