According to UPI.com, 14% of all kids in the United States have special needs. And, 24% of parents of kids with special needs have had to change their work schedule either by reducing hours or stopping work altogether to care for their special needs child. There’s no doubt that special needs parents go through a lot to care for their kiddos and do everything in their power to make sure their kids get what they need to survive and thrive.
Unfortunately, they also receive their fair share of unwelcome advice from others. Even if another person means well with their words of encouragement or suggestions, the advice may be damaging to the mom of a special needs kiddo. Others often don’t understand what a special needs parent goes through daily and how much she struggles to make all the right decisions without having to feel shamed or pressured by people who don’t understand.
Key Ministry says that parents of kids with ADHD are almost twice as likely to get divorced as parents without ADHD kids. The divorce rate of parents with kids on the autism spectrum is also higher. It’s no secret that special needs parents have a lot going on that makes everyday life difficult at times. Still, they love their special kids unconditionally. Here’s some of the most common “advice” given to them that really doesn’t help their situation.
15 "There's Always Adoption If You Want A Healthy One"
One of the most common questions special needs moms get (I know, I am one!) is “Is it genetic?” I’m not sure why people feel the need to ask this question – or whether it’s any of their business at all – but it happens. If you do answer “yes”, be prepared to get bombarded with a lot of unwelcome advice.
I remember one time being told my someone, “Oh, it’s okay. There’s always adoption!” as if there was something wrong with my child and having another one with his disability would strike tragedy upon the world. Genetic or not, it won’t influence my decision about having more children if that was something I wanted. Just like any mama, special needs moms love their kiddos unconditionally and see far past their disabilities.
14 "Just Hire A Babysitter Like Everyone Else"
“Take time for yourself.” This is one piece of advice that most special needs moms would laugh at because of how unrealistic it is. Most moms struggle to have some Me Time, but special needs moms can find it difficult to get any extra time in the day to themselves. “So, hire a babysitter to help you once in a while so you can take a break, go shopping, or get a quick nap!” Nope, it’s definitely not that easy.
Jennifer, the mother of a boy with several disabilities, told TODAY, “I would truly love to be able to have a massage or a doctor’s appointment without having my son in the room. I have a wonderful sister who helps out, but I try not to call too much for fear of burning her out.”
The truth is, it’s tough getting a babysitter for some special needs kiddos – and the number of people we’d trust with them is low.
13 "Aren't There Support Groups For That?"
Parents without special needs kids absolutely could be very well-meaning with a lot of their advice. The truth is that they don’t understand the everyday struggles that special needs parents go through, from IEPs for school to therapies a few days a week to buying and maintaining medical equipment and more.
So, when others advise that maybe you should attend a support group for special needs parents, they likely mean well. Perhaps it’ll make you feel like part of a community and give you a chance to work through some stress. At the same time, you just want to feel like a regular mom with a special needs kid. “Special needs mom” doesn’t need to be someone’s total identity. They, too, deserve to feel wanted by their friends without feeling pressure to only fit into special needs groups.
12 "God Only Gives What You Can Handle"
Dr. Darla Clayton wrote an article for Huffington Post about some of the most ridiculous advice given to special needs moms. One of those on her list? “God only gives you what you can handle.” Yep, I’ve heard that one before, too.
Dr. Clayton is also a special needs parent. Here’s what she says about this unsound bit of advice:
“What if I can’t handle it, what if I’m trying to tell you that I need help, what if I’m falling apart or I know that something has to give because I’m just not keeping it together anymore? And what if before I’m able to share my grief and anguish with you, you tell me that God didn’t give me more than I can handle. But he did, and I know that I have more than I can handle, and I am trying to reach out for help.”
11 "Such A Newbie"
This piece of advice, believe it or not, actually comes mostly from other special needs parents who have been through the process of school IEPs and meetings for their own kids. They often tell “newbies” things like, “You’re going to have to fight for everything your kid needs. Don’t let the school officials walk all over you. Be a jerk if you have to. Go in there and demand everything.”
First off, it’s kind of a given that a special needs mom will do what she needs to do for her child to have what she needs, so that advice is silly. But, “demanding” and “fighting” may not be the way to go about it all the time. Of course, the process isn’t always as smooth-sailing as we like it to be. But, most of the time, schools do whatever they can to ensure that a child with special needs can succeed. It’s okay to be stern and steadfast with the IEP team, but you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
10 "She's Probably Not Ready For That..."
Depending on where you live, you may notice that your local sports teams don’t seem to accommodate special needs kids. Other parents and friends may even advise you to put your child on a special needs team instead of trying to mainstream them into a team. But, what if you and your child both feel like she can handle being mainstreamed, yet everyone seems to push you in a different direction simply because she has special needs?
That’s what happened to Casey, a boy with autism, and his mom. According to HuffingtonPost.com, Casey loved to swim competitively but wasn’t given the opportunity to do so when most kids in the area started. At the time of publication, he was 8, making him behind his peers for lack of opportunity. Eventually, the community banded together to create a team for children with autism, like Casey, but it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t given the same opportunities as his peers to start with.
9 "Don't Bother. This Way You Won't Be Disappointed"
As a member of a few Facebook groups for moms of special needs kids, I often see mom posting about their heartache over their kids not having anyone come to their birthday parties. One mom named “Carla” said:
“Do birthdays ever get better? I feel so bad for my boys. Saturday [my son] turned 2 and I tried to throw him a birthday party. ONE person showed up with her two grandkids!! (Who are 7 and 12 so they weren’t happy to be there). That’s it. Maybe I’m immune to it but I don’t think [my boys] are hard to be around. Would it have killed anyone to spend two hours with them?!”
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Other moms in the same group have mentioned that their “friends” and relatives have even suggested not to throw their kids birthday parties to save them from disappointment.
8 "You’re Out In Public?"
It’s amazing how rude people can be when they don’t understand – or care to understand – a child’s disability. Moms in one Facebook group for special needs parents often vent about the rude comments and “advice” of others when it comes to being out in public with their special needs kiddos. One mom said:
“I was in the grocery store with my daughter today. She was getting fussy in her wheelchair and I was trying to calm her while finishing my list. An older woman came up to me, smiled, and said ‘Maybe next time you should leave her home with someone to make it easier on you.’ I was shocked. I’m sure her comment was well-intentioned, but seriously?! I shouldn’t have to leave my child at home because she gets fussy or is in a wheelchair. She has the right to experience the world, too.”
7 "All The Work Hardly Seems Worth It..."
One of the big comments people say to special needs moms is “I don’t know how you do it. You deserve a break.” This comment and its other variations, although they may seem kind on the surface, can eat away at a special needs mom’s heart. It’s almost as if we’re being told that our child is too much work. Sure, it’s tough. And yes, we do deserve some “me time”. But please don’t make it sound as though they aren’t worth every bit of our blood, sweat, tears, and love that we put into caring for them.
And, on the other side of the coin, when we do feel like we need a few minutes to ourselves, it’s often difficult to find friends, and even family, who are willing to help. They may offer the advice, “take a nap,” but where are they when we actually need them for that.
6 "Just Come Out, He'll Be Fine!"
“Get a babysitter so we can have a girl’s night out and you can have a break!” While that may be easy for some parents, moms of special needs kiddos often don’t have it quite that simple. One reddit user explained how difficult it’s been for her family to find a qualified babysitter:
“My little boy is 4 and was diagnosed with severe ASD at 2 1/2. He has very little speech, has violent meltdowns occasionally and has very rigid repetitive behaviors. We have reached a point where we NEED to find a good babysitter who is familiar with ASD children. We have no family or friends who are willing or able to help, and Care.com was a total fail for us. We have been on a waiting list for respite with our local ARC for 5 months with no luck yet. I even asked at his school and they had no resources either. I really, really just need a couple hours here and there so I can breathe and just get a haircut or a cup of tea somewhere.”
5 "Don't Let Your Kid Get Any More Vaccines!"
Eek. This one is a touchy subject, but one that really needs to be addressed. Special needs moms are often on the receiving end of a lot of unsolicited medical advice regarding their child’s disability. Autism, especially, is one that many parents have to hear way more than they want to from others who don’t understand.
Specifically, moms in special needs Facebook groups have mentioned that others have told them not to get their children any more shots because they probably already caused their autism. Although the verdict is still up in the air, this “advice” does nothing to help already worried parents. Unless you’re a doctor, you shouldn’t be giving anyone medical advice about their own kids. Trust that they already are doing everything they feel is best for their child under the direction of their own medical team.
4 "We Can Talk About It..."
Others often advise special needs parents to “talk it out” with someone, maybe even them. But, it’s incredibly difficult to talk to someone who doesn’t really understand what you’re going through. And, special needs parents can find it difficult to find others with kids like theirs. Just because two children have special needs doesn’t mean that they – or their parents – have the same struggles.
Dr. Seth Meyers, a doctor of psychology and special needs dad, admits on Psychology Today that he’s gotten so overwhelmed to the point of taking is frustration out on others who didn’t deserve it. And, he says many of his friends don’t seem to care about his kids at all: “I have been amazed since having children about the number of friends I have who have never expressed any interest in meeting my children—or even mention the fact that I have them.” Even though someone might say they care, it doesn’t necessarily mean they care enough. And they’ll never understand unless they’ve been there.
3 "Don't Worry, I'm Sure She'll Catch Up..."
Parents love sharing (and bragging) about their child’s milestones. It’s fun to converse with other moms and show how proud you are of your kid by sharing some of his most exciting developments over the past week or month. Most of the time, special needs moms don’t mind hearing about these awesome accomplishments – until someone says something like, “Oh don’t worry, she will catch up in time!” Depending on the disability, he or she may never catch up.
Even worse, some people have the notion that certain disabilities are temporary and that a child will simply grow out of it one day – and give moms some insulting advice and comments. One mom told The Mighty, “[A] home nursing agency [said] she’s an insurance liability, but gladly call back if she snaps out of it.”
2 "But He Looks So Normal"
Ellen Stumbo, a mom of two children with special needs, wrote on The Mighty about some of the things she absolutely hates hearing as a special needs mom. One of the points on her list was, “But she looks normal!” as if a special needs child has to look a certain way to have a disability. Here’s Ellen’s response:
“Some disabilities are invisible. This comment suggests doctors who diagnose the child are incompetent and the parents are misinformed. Just because you cannot see a disability doesn’t mean it is not there.
[Another] mom said she was asked, ‘Are you sure about his diagnosis? You should ask for a second opinion.’”
It’s not anyone’s place to diagnose someone with a disability except a doctor. Spouting your own judgment and opinion doesn’t help anyone in the situation. You never know what someone is struggling with inside.
1 "I Would Spank It Out Of Him"
Mom Ellen Stumbo also made an awesome point in her article on The Mighty about how judgmental others can be toward moms of kids with special needs, especially when it comes to discipline. Some people imply that the child’s meltdowns and other behavior problems are related to bad parenting instead of his disability:
“It’s saying, ‘You are a bad parent,’ when in reality most parents of children with behaviors are spending hours and hours in therapy and interventions trying to help their children cope with their surroundings and sensory input.
Parents in our community have been told, ‘I would spank it out of them, my kids would never do that.’ ‘That’s your karma.’ ‘You have not stepped up enough as a parent, that’s why your son has so many issues.’ ‘Can’t you control that child?’ ‘If I had your kids for a week they wouldn’t behave like that anymore.’”
Sources: AutismSpeaks.org, HuffingtonPost.com, KeyMinistry.org, KidsHealth.org, PsychologyToday.com, TheMighty.com, Today.com, UPI.com