“When will you be able to stop worrying about his heart?”
“When will he be fixed?”
“Is he fixed now?”
“Will she grow out of all of this?”
“Now that his heart is fixed, he should act more normal right?”
“Will his heart grow back?”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Why doesn’t he walk?”
“He’s old enough to walk, isn’t he?”
“If you put him down, he’ll learn to walk.”
“You’re holding him back by giving in with a feeding tube.”
“Hypotonia sounds like an excuse.”
“But he looks normal.”
“But she looks so normal.”
“But he doesn’t look sick.”
Months ago, I asked parents of special needs and disabled children to share the inappropriate/strange/uncomfortable questions and comments they’ve gotten regarding children. Surprisingly, I received very similar responses (in varying) degrees from everyone. The majority of the comments came from strangers and distant acquaintances, but some of the hurtful comments were uttered by friends and family.
Interestingly enough, all of the questions and comments listed above, I have personally heard regarding Braveheart. We’ve been told that if we just put him down, he’ll somehow miraculously walk. Yes, I believe in miracles, but it is rather insensitive to tell a parent that if they just did this and that, their child would accomplish XYZ, despite his or her medical or behavioural condition, without any effort whatsoever. It implies that the parents are holding their children back from succeeding.
When it comes to all children, parents want nothing more than to see them thrive and succeed. The same goes for the parents of children with special needs. Almost all special needs parents that I have spoken with want their children to accomplish the same things that typical children accomplish. We celebrate even the ‘smallest’ of milestones as though they are massive accomplishments. Because, to us, they are massive accomplishments.
In a previous blog, I stated that many special needs parents would prefer that strangers ask questions rather than just stare. This remains true. Many people, when asked about hurtful comments made, mentioned that others staring at their child judgmentally was perhaps the most hurtful.
The list of comments and questions above are understandably out of curiosity, however, they should be asked in a manner that is nonjudgemental and that is sensitive to the parents and the individual’s feelings. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with you/her/him?”, one could ask, politely, “May I ask, what condition does he have?” or “May I ask why he needs an oxygen/feeding tube?” Instead of asking, “When will he be normal?” maybe ask, “Is his condition life long?”
“Normal” is a very loaded word. Special needs parents tend to find their own new normal. “Fixed” is also a very loaded word because it implies that the child is broken.
Next time you see a mum carrying around her two-year-old all the time (or even having an older child in a stroller) don’t judge them. Perhaps the child is unable to walk. Not because they are spoiled, but because they have a condition that hinders them from walking. Looking “normal” does not guarantee health or strength. There are many invisible disabilities.
I am 100% supportive of people asking questions, but I am also 100% supportive of the questions being asked with kindness and sensitivity, not with judgment and hurtful phrasing. So, do ask questions, just think about the questions before you ask, and try not to make your own assumptions about individuals. Kindness goes a long way.