Although empathy comes natural to most of us, it can still be hard to channel our heartfelt thoughts to parents of special needs children, it can be intimidating even trying to figure out exactly what would be appropriate to say.
If you scramble for the right words or lose your voice when you meet parents of a special needs child, you are not alone, and the awkward scenario is much more familiar to the parents of the affected child than you might realise, they’ve been there too many times .
Some people think it’s convenient to dodge a meeting with parents of special needs kids altogether, instead of enveloping themselves and the parents in the discomfort of not knowing what to say.
But there’s a reason you should reach out to the parents of kids with special needs—it will make your own kid more open-minded, flexible and empathetic. Also, it means the world to the families who have kids with special needs.
See practical tips below to guide your conversation:
This is a simple but effective gesture. Just say hi, to both the parent and the kid. It’s a universally friendly greeting and immediately opens up a line of communication. Pointing, staring or remaining silent doesn’t improve the situation—for anyone.
2. That’s A Cool Wheelchair:
A child’s disability doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room. Most parents are perfectly comfortable (and happy!) to chat about their kid’s strengths and needs.
You don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t exist.
3. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
This is a great question if you witness a parent struggling.
Sometimes parents with a special needs child have to tackle going up or down a few steps while the kid is in a wheelchair (and there’s no ramp) or they’re trying to get around some other tasks while their kid may be having a meltdown.
Sometimes a helping hand is all that is needed. However, don’t assume you know how to help and just jump in without asking—certain situations call for certain actions. Ask the parent directly what it is that they need. They’ll appreciate the offer.
4. “How can we include your child?”
Parents of kids with special needs struggle with inclusion all the time.
They often worry about the social lives of their kids—from play-dates, to birthday parties to having someone to play with during recess. Asking this shows that their kids are welcome in your life.
Avoid comments like, ‘Well, we wanted to include your kid, but…’ . Quite frankly, they are used to finding ways to include their kids in most activities and are happy to share their ideas with you.
5. “Your child is really… [insert compliment here: smart, funny, happy, etc.]”
Special needs kids are more than their disabilities, even if that’s the first thing you notice about them. When you take the time to notice other things about the kids, it means a lot.
So, start up a conversation! You’ll find out you have much more in common than you initially thought.