Shit People Say When You're Parenting a Kid With Special Needs

Rebecca Hill

Every now and then I come across an article entitled, “Ten Things Not to Say to Your Friend With Psoriasis.” “What Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Depression/Bunions/Earwax/Hemorrhoids.” “What Your Friend With Excessive Earwax Wishes You Knew.”

Okay. I am getting carried away. And cracking myself up. The truth is we all say stupid shit. Some of us are worse about it than others, some of us care more than others, and are open to being corrected, and yeah, when you are trying to get by in life while parenting a child with special needs those comments hit the raw places like some asshole slapping a sunburn.

I tend to categorize these thoughtless comments in my mind.

1. Things I must correct, for the good of society.  “It must be rough that your kid has a mental illness like autism.”

Deep breath. Remember, hitting is wrong. “Actually, autism is a neurological difference. My son’s brain just interprets senses and information differently. It isn’t a disease or a tragedy. It’s tough sometimes but only because he needs help and people don’t always understand.” Chances are the person wasn’t being an ignorant dick on purpose. My flappy kid is fine. We’re fine. Ok then. Carry on.

2. Things I need to correct because my kid needs to know that is NOT OKAY LADY. (Looks at my five year old hemophiliac son’s crutch/helmet/port and says “What’s wrong with you?” Or looks at his autistic brother and says, “What’s wrong with your brother, honey?”

There’s nothing WRONG with him what’s WRONG with you? He’s actually PERFECT. God MADE him. HE’S COMPLETE. ARE YOU SUGGESTING MY SON IS DEFECTIVE IN SOME WAY? Frozen blinking smile. Of course not. Have a lovely day Karen. Again, hitting is WRONG. And you don’t want to ask your sister for bail money. Again.

3. Things well meaning old lady/strangers say, and things my loving friends and relatives say that came out wrong and I kinda read in to because I am really in pain. So I can just let it slide and talk it out later.

“I don’t care if I have a boy or a girl, as long as it’s healthy!” “Can’t wait for winter to be over, the kids have been so sick, it’s been awful!” (really? Here’s the thing, they’ll get better. How nice for you.) Wanna hear about our romantic anniversary getaway? Actually, Susan, I don’t, a trip to the bathroom is like planning the goddamned invasion of NORMANDY but I hope the bed and breakfast was lovely. Yeah. These are the things I just store away until later and rant about to my safety person. Do you have a safety person? If not, get one. I myself have gone through several. I tend to wear them out.

4. Lastly? The stuff that you just have to laugh at, the absurd stuff that is awkward but you know what? I don’t have the energy to get mad at.

Like when I finally gave in and let my kid play dodgeball at the big church picnic and he kept winning because everyone was afraid to hit the bleeder. Or when I was standing in line to pay for my son’s toy train and he was flapping around and repeating the same sentence like, a hundred times, and the teenage cashier looks around desperately for a minute and turns bright red and says, “um...would you like to donate a dollar to Autism Speaks?”

A moment of silence and then the entire line of people waiting with their purchases bursts out laughing. With me. It was funny.  

I knew I had turned a corner when I started letting some stupid comments or awkward moments go. I had so little emotional energy anyway, did I really want to waste it on being indignant all the damn time? Most of the time people don’t mean anything. Most of the time they want to understand. Hey lady, isn’t my kid beautiful? He might be flapping and hooting but he is pretty damn magical. I’m actually in awe. In general I noticed that people followed suit.

Your best weapon against ignorance and slips of the tongue, sins of commission and omission that hit those wounds you carry around like so many sippy cups and diaper wipes on your parenting journey? A sense of humor. Reminders of when you tried to understand and put your foot in it. A big fat chip on your shoulder, while understandable as hell, doesn’t help you stay sane, and sure as hell doesn’t help your kid navigate the world out there, which I would venture to say are your two main goals. Put all those in your proverbial diaper bag, honey, and you are well on your way. Yeah, there are times you have to speak up and kick some ignorant and ignoble butt. But pace yourself. There are a lot of idiots out there. A lot of really good people, too.

Hang in there mama. It won’t always hurt so bad, and you’re gonna figure this shit out. Now get out be all kickass and stuff.