07 February 2014

What to say to parents of special needs kids

Continuing yesterday's train of thought, what should you say to a parent with a special needs kid? Fucked if I know. Someone is always going to get offended. I'm good with, "Cute kid. Has some issues, eh?" Then if I feel like unloading on a stranger, I can. And if I don't, I can say, "Yup, sure does". Conversation over.

Some people will be offended if you completely ignore that their kid is different. Someone else will be massively offended that you had the nerve to say something about their kid being different. Thing is, we're raw. We've been through the wringer. We've had doctors blame us, talk down to us, yell at us, threaten us with child protective services. We've had family question our every decision. Blame us for every setback. We blame ourselves. We've lost friends. We've cleaned up more than our fair share of messes. We're overtired. We're overstressed. We go to more appointments, see more specialists, manage funding budgets and schedules. We're paying for treatments we can't afford on the thin hope that it might help make our beautiful baby* feel a little better. Some of us have other jobs on top of this. Some of us gave up careers to do this. Some are bitter about that. Some aren't. Expecting all of us to feel the same way about something is stupid (you fucking monster - see previous post). We're not a monolithic group. And the don't do this or you'll offend us posts miss that. OF COURSE there are some things we're sick of hearing, or as a general rule are likely to be taken in a way not intended by the speaker. 

This was all brought to you by this list on the Huffington Post yesterday. So in the interest of being helpful to other parents who need snappy comebacks to ignorant bullshit, and people who might not want to be ignorant bullshit spewers, I give you this:

1) But he looks so normal! or You'd never know to look at her!
What the parent might think you're saying: Stop whining. Your kid is fine.
snappy comeback: She hides it well in public. You could learn a thing or two from her.
Instead try: I never would have known. I bet you've done a lot of work to see that happen!

2) Is it genetic?
What the parent might think you're saying: Is it contagious?
snappy comeback: Nope. Contagious. He got it from a public toilet.
Instead try: biting your tongue. It's not your business.

3) "He's going to grow out of it, right?"
What the parent might think you're saying: OMG! HOW FUCKING AWFUL. I can't stand the idea that he'll live with this forever! That would be a tragedy. 
snappy comeback: Oh yes, but it'll come back every full moon.
Instead try: Is it a lifelong thing? - asking is always better than any question that ends in "right?"

4) "Did you cause her to be in a wheelchair?"
What the parent might think you're saying: This could never happen to me, so how is this your fault?
Not my issue, but I'll take a stab at it:
snappy comeback: No. It was her choice. She's really lazy.
Instead try: No clue. I'm thinking this is another case of just don't, it's not your business.

5)"My uncle's brother's nephew's cousin has autism, so I know what it's like" or "My nephew's cousin has autism, too. He's really good at math. What's your son gifted in?"
What the parent might think you're saying: Oooh, does he do tricks?!
snappy comeback: Diarrhea. He's excellent at that.
instead try: "Were you lucky enough to get a savant?" Please learn that most autistic people are intelligent but not savants. Actually, I wouldn't say that at all. Well, I would, but my special autistic talent is offending people.

6) "Why didn't you stop having kids after the first one?"
What the parent might think you're saying: Why did you risk this awful tragedy happening again?!
snappy comeback: Why didn't your parents stop before the first one?
instead try: minding your own business.

7) "God only gives you what you can handle." 
What the parent might think you're saying: God is punishing you. But you're not so overwhelmed that you need my help. Or my tax money.
snappy comeback: Oh sure, because no one ever commits suicide.
snappy comeback: Then God's an asshole.
snappy comeback: Oh, thank you for your unsolicited platitude. I feel so much better now.
snappy comeback: You're right. He gave me you for babysitting. Enjoy them. I'm going shopping. Alone.
instead try: Do you need some help? How can I help? If you're a stranger, try, "I hope you have a good support network! No? Tell you what, here's my email address, I will see what kind of resources are available in the community, and if you're interested, email me and I'll send you some links."

8) "Have you tried juicing?" or "Why don't you watch this movie about the keto diet?"
What the parent might think you're saying: Do some research! There's lots of options out there. Are you stupid?
snappy comeback: Oh, thank you, doctor!
instead try: This one is tricky. Some people really don't appreciate these suggestions. I'm fine with them. I'm find with the original, actually. Maybe, "Hey, my friend got a lot of symptom relief with X. If you're interested, I could give you her email address" (Symptom relief is the key word here. No one will think you're doing the cure thing if you use this term)

9) Comments on work, such as: "It must be nice coming late" after running around all morning at appointments or "It must be nice getting to relax all day since you don't have a job."
What the parent might think you're saying: You're a lazy shit.
snappy comeback: Oh yeah, it's all daytime tv and bonbons. You know, between the OT, SLP, BCBC, PT, cleaning up the pee and vomit, comforting him after seizures, cooking a separate meal for each kid because of allergies. Wanna trade?
instead try: Busy morning, eh?

10)  "He's one of God's special angels."
What the parent might think you're saying: He's one of God's special angels.
snappy comeback: Special ED angels, maybe.
snappy comeback: An angel who can swear like a sailor.
instead try: shutting your cake hole.

11) "How in the world did you break both your legs?"
What the parent might think you're saying: I'm profoundly ignorant. Please school me.
Again, not my issue, but I'll try.
snappy comeback: Kicking morons who ask stupid questions.
snappy comeback: I just stood up one day and they snapped. I think it's contagious.
instead try: Nice hardware! (Beware. This will be checked closely for sarcasm.)

12) "I don't know how you do it. You are a great mom" or "Do you really start his IVs, oh dear, I just couldn't possibly do that!"
What the parent might think you're saying: Please don't let this happen to me. Please don't let this happen to me. Dear God PLEASE don't let this happen to me.
snappy comeback: Thank you.
Seriously? WTF, other parents? This is a nice think to say. The first part, anyway. The "I couldn't possibly do that" part needs its own snappy comeback.
snappy comeback: Good thing she's not your kid then!
instead try (because apparently some people have issues): You're fabulous. Can I buy you some chocolate?

13) "I can't believe you give her (insert medicine or medical procedure here), I would never give that to my child."
What the parent might think you're saying: You're a shitty parent.
snappy comeback: Thank you, doctor. What's your specialty in, again?
instead try: Whooo. That must have been a hell of a decision.

14) "I nearly had a stroke" or "I think I'm going to have an epileptic fit" or "Are you retarded?"
What the parent might think you're saying: I'm very rude. Please embarrass me in front of all my friends.
snappy comeback: You mean, like my kid? Or in that HA HA way?
instead try: I think my heart about jumped out of my chest. I'm pretty sure that's never happened to anyone. You should be safe.

15) What the hell happened to my numbering system?

*I'm not infantilizing the kid with autism. EVERY kid is our baby. When they're 40 and we're 65, they're our babies. Chill.