Monday, June 24, 2013

SPECIAL NEEDS ETIQUETTE 101: Say What?

When words abound, transgression is inevitable,
but the one who restrains his words is wise.
~ Proverbs 10:19, NET ~

I was taking the sunny 2 1/2 mile walk around placid Fowler Lake on a warm May afternoon when some walkers stopped me to fawn over my infant son in the stroller.  It took only a moment for the elder of the 2 women to notice the medical alert bracelet on my baby's wrist.  "Is he allergic to penicillin or something?", the woman probed.  

Being new to the journey of parenting a child with special needs, I answered honestly, "No.  He has hemophilia."  

Her response?  "Oh, we had a dog with that once.  We had to put him down because of it."

Could there be a more outrageous, insensitive remark to make to the mother of baby newly diagnosed with a serious chronic illness?

Over the years, there has been no shortage of unsolicited advice, inappropriate remarks or just plain hurtful words.  Let me share some of the top few we've heard:
  • (In regards to our son having a genetic illness)  "Well, you knew it was a risk, and you just had to have kids anyway."
  • "Have you ever thought of getting you son a Vitamin K shot? (In regards to his bleeding disorder)
  • "Maybe if you fed her a little less sugar... (In regards to our daughter with severe ADHD on the spectrum)
  • "You just need to lay down the law." (In regards to our daughter's behavior)
Probably the biggest violations of etiquette with special needs involve the comments of others.  Words can so deeply wound us because, whether intended to or not, they speak volumes about how we are judged by others.

For well-meaning commentors:
  • When you tell us what to do with our children when we haven't asked you for advice, you make us feel judged, incompetent, looked down upon.
  • When you see a family struggling, rather than judging or throwing advice at a person, kindly say, "It looks like you have your hands full.  Is there anything I can do to help you?"
  • You can bless parents tremendously when you simply state, "Tell me more about son/daughter" or "Help me understand...".  Then shut up and listen.  Being able to unload, to have someone interested in our story or to even find us worthy of listening to is a big deal for parents of children with special needs.
For parents receiving the remarks:
  • Take a deep breath when someone says something foolish and realize in your mind, "They don't know what they don't know."
  • Remember, you were once uninformed and ignorant as well.
  • Take the times of unsolicited remarks or erroneous comments as opportunities to educate others.  While you will have times that you are up to the task and times when you are not, always be mindful that our advocacy for our kids begins by educating those around us one remark at a  time.
  • A wise, old pastor of mine once told me that when we are not up to handling the comments of others, it is okay to be polite but firm and say, "Don't go there, my friend."  This warns people that their words are out of line and that you are not up to discussing it at the time.
So often it isn't even what is said, but who says it.  Those who mean the most to us can too easily wound us.  Be mindful of your personal boundaries and what you're up to hearing before you go into a situation where you know you will be exposed to the foolish remarks or advice of others.

Above all, remember who you and your child are in Christ.  That will help you repel the words of others with the confidence you have from being a child of the King.

PRAY:   Father, your words are life.  Help me to cling to Your words, building others up with what I say.  Help me to forgive others and their hurtful comments just as you have forgiven me.  And guard my mouth with your discernment and wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. Love the "don't go there my friend" response now if I can just remember it in the midst of hurt and anger:0)

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