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SN parents, may I please ask...

(32 Posts)
Jacksmania Sun 08-Dec-13 17:46:06

What's the best way to respond if I'm chatting with a parent and she (or he) tells me her child has SN? I want to show acceptance and support and empathy without being condescending or fake or making a complete twat of of myself and offending the parent.

To explain - we're on holiday, and DS was playing in the pool with an older boy. They were getting along brilliantly and having a fabulous time, and I was sitting on the pool steps with the other boy's mum and another woman who was cooling off (hot here). I made a comment about how nice I thought her boy was to play with mine (DS is nearly six, the other boy a few years older, maybe ten or eleven?) and she said that he got along better with younger kids and that he was on the AS spectrum. I said, "oh, is he?" (the sort of neutral thing I usually say, in the sort of way that I hope tells the other parent that I'm happy to listen if they want to tell me more, or not, as they choose) and the other woman said "oh... I'm so sorry".
It sort of froze the conversation until she got up and left. And then the mum said "f*ck, I hate when people say they're sorry". And I totally get that - it's like they're saying they're sorry the child exists at all.
Of course people often don't know what to say at all. And often they say the first thing that comes to mind, and not mean any harm. I do get it.

But. What can I say that lets the other parent know I'm not a twat or mostly not? Or am I totally overthinking this? I've read a few SN threads on here and on a lot of them it seems like people just say utterly shitty things. A recent example from home was that of the mums at DS's school said to the mum of a boy in DS's class who has Down's Syndrome "didn't you find that out before you had him?" She's usually a total cunt but that one took the cake.

Please help me not put my foot in it repeat apologies if I'm completely overthinking thanksthanksthanks.

PolterGoose Sun 08-Dec-13 19:01:53

My ds is 10 and has Aspergers, its really lovely when people complement him, so just you saying what a kind/interesting/funny/whatever child he seems to be, makes a real change and would make my day.

I would be fuming at someone saying they were sorry and it's not great when people say 'well, they all have their little quirks' or 'well, we are all on the spectrum'.

I think you did fine, don't worry flowers

Jacksmania Sun 08-Dec-13 20:22:59

Thanks thanks
It was actually really sweet, the other boy was teaching my DS something in the pool and was explaining something patiently over and over again until DS got it, and DS hugged him and said "you're a really good teacher" (which is a very typical thing for DS to say - "good job Mummy, you're really good at that" grin).

Bluebirdonmyshoulder Sun 08-Dec-13 20:57:15

I think this whole area is a minefield - a few people made a point of NOT saying sorry when we told them about bluechick and it made me really angry - WHY weren't they sorry? They should have been sorry that this awful thing happened! I wanted the entire world to apologise to me in the hope that that would make it all better!

I say this just to illustrate the point that 'SN parents' are all different. We don't somehow magically have everything in common. Polter and your pool lady are clearly sensible and rational types and I'm obviously not!

Anyway, I think you did the right thing too. Everyone likes it when another parent compliments their child. A heartfelt compliment is pretty safe ground!

troutsprout Sun 08-Dec-13 21:15:48

You did fine :-)

lougle Sun 08-Dec-13 22:25:54

I think I'd be tempted to do as you did <"Oh, is he?" or 'Oh, right'> and when the other Mum expressed her sympathy and you noticed the atmosphere shift I'd probably interject with 'Well, he's an absolute credit to you, what a nice boy!' or something positive and non-patronising.

DD1 is at an age (8.0) now that she obviously has SN. I can't stand it when people skirt around the issue, but I love it when people comment on positive attributes they see, such as her sense of humour or her friendly disposition, or her manners, etc.

It's funny how we're all so different, isn't it? grin

wileycoyote Sun 08-Dec-13 22:30:17

Yes, you did the right thing. My ds has ASD and I sometimes tell people so that his eccentricity is explained. I would be very upset if someone said something negative about him, I would prefer them to comment on one of his other attributes (cute etc).

Jacksmania Mon 09-Dec-13 02:29:05

Bluebird, if someone told me about a recent diagnosis and were obviously devastated, I'd be really hard put not to say "bloody hell, I'm so sorry - do you need a hug?". That would be a very hard to suppress knee-jerk impulse and I hope it would be taken as intended.

Firsttimer7259 Mon 09-Dec-13 07:14:04

A few years back I wondered if there was anything anyone could say to me that didnt make me want to kill them! I was in so much pain I just couldn't function. So snap bluebird.
Now ( she's nearly 4) I tend to like it if someone responds by asking 'how does this affect her/ you?' I also like complements as long as not overdone. I warned a friend I hadn't seen un a long time that dd is disabled she then went on in utter astonishment about how beautiful dd is. Dd is bloody gorgeous but I found the assumption that disabled people are ugly really offensive. Also please please don't act like we are in same boat - ' all parents worry 'etc drives me crazy because it just shows how much you don't get it

Strongecoffeeismydrug Mon 09-Dec-13 09:22:54

Ds is nine and it's obvious he has SN.
If people ask I'm happy to explain his difficulties but I don't like pity wink.
I appreciate compliments on his good behaviour but if he's upset or agitated I can see so don't point out the obvious.
Great that he taught your ds something and interacted, a lot of parents would move their kids away from ds as he's a big lad, acts like a toddler but wouldn't hurt a fly( unless at school)

You know what. Lots of people say things to me that would probably look twatish if I just wrote the words here but it all SO depends on the context.

Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed about as an individual (As a society yes, but you can't help completely your lack of exposure) and most parents of children with SN are tolerant (though stressed).

If someone said the 'wrong' thing to me but was overall friendly I'd probably just think 'oh, they don't understand' and that would be the end of it unless/until there was a social faux pas that my child made that needed explanation or intervention to repair his relationship with the other child. Then, provided the friend had been friendly in the first place I'd just assume they'd take my lead.

If not, the friendship would probably be over though.

magso Mon 09-Dec-13 10:19:23

Perhaps it depends a little on the age of the child or more specifically how far along parents are in understanding and coming to terms with the disability their child has, as to what would be the best thing to say. Gentle accurately observed compliments are always welcomed by me and ds! Ds loves playing with younger children too, and often younger children enjoy a bigger child playing with them so it works both ways as long as adults go with it.
You did fine by the way!

Jacksmania Mon 09-Dec-13 12:30:39

Thanks all flowers

I do get that everyone's different and there are no set guidelines. It's good to know what to really avoid though, thanks! smile
"How does that affect him/you?" - brilliant. That's what I was looking for, how to ask in a supportive way.

By the way, our boys played together until we made them get out of the pool at sunset, and DS was asking if there'd be time to play with B before we leave this afternoon. Hopefully we'll see them smile

Bluebirdonmyshoulder Mon 09-Dec-13 13:23:35

I'm really not being a pain for the sake of it wink but personally, I would find "How does that affect you?" an astonishingly stupid question. In fact a nurse asked me that very question when we were in hospital with bluechick and I was giving her medical history. She asked it in quite a chirpy way and I snapped back, "I'm really fucking devastated about it actually."

I guess it depends on the nature and severity of the condition.

I say this not to confuse you but to reassure that if you ever do 'get it wrong' then don't beat yourself up and to make you aware that there really is no such thing as an 'SN parent'. Our situations are all different and I dislike any notion that we all think the same way and deal with things the same way.

I also agree with starlight that context is everything. I can completely forgive someone saying slightly the wrong thing and / or their lack of knowledge about rare conditions if they're fundamentally friendly and treating me like a 'normal' human being. Treating me like an 'SN parent' is guaranteed to annoy me.

The random strangers / new people I appreciate most actually are those who just say nice things about bluechick and don't ask questions. It is obvious there's something not quite right and I can tell they can tell but I like those people who just mind their own business. There's a lot to be said for that.

PolterGoose Mon 09-Dec-13 13:26:44

Good points, well made Blue and Star. Agree it is all about context and intention.

hazeyjane Mon 09-Dec-13 13:34:45

I always talk too much and in far too open a way about ds, probably to deflect this, because I hate to think of someone worrying nervously about what to say. You would never get as far as asking how it affects me/him, because I would already have talked on far too much!

The one thing that gives me a rictus grin and make me turnaround and walk away, is when people say things along the lines of, 'he'll grow out of it' or 'oh yes my nephew didn't talk until he was 24' or any of the other trite phrases that minimise what your child is having to deal with.

Jacksmania Mon 09-Dec-13 14:21:21

I'm sorry, bluebird, I didn't bean to imply that all SN parents are the same and would react the same way. Maybe that isn't a good question after all.
I think I'll just stick to what I have been doing ^ and hope I don't offend anyone. Or if I do, that they'll realize it's completely unintentional.

Jacksmania Mon 09-Dec-13 14:21:46

bean => mean

Silly phone.

FanjoForTheMammaries Mon 09-Dec-13 14:24:30

I would agree asking me how it affected me would seem too personal if I didn't know you.

FanjoForTheMammaries Mon 09-Dec-13 14:24:59

To me best answer is "oh has she" <resume conversation>

lottieandmia Mon 09-Dec-13 14:27:42

Your response was the one I would have preferred. Nobody has ever said they were sorry to me and if they did it would piss me off!

Jacksmania Mon 09-Dec-13 14:40:47

Thanks thanks

SilverApples Mon 09-Dec-13 14:48:45

You helped by not rushing over to your child to remove him from the influence of the scary boy with AS.
By continuing to talk to his mother as if she was, you know, just another parent.
When people used to say 'I'm sorry' I used to look puzzled and say 'Why?'

LickingMyWounds Mon 09-Dec-13 15:01:27

Hiya, my son has ASD, he is 6. I try to keep it in mind always that if a stupid comment is coming from a good, well meaning place to let it go. I am getting a bit better at this as time goes by. The only one I hate is the sympathy look and, "oooh that's HARD on YOU". Well of course it fucking is! No need to make me feel worse! I like it most when people take it in their stride. Not so keen on the ones who act interested and then actively avoid me like the plague for ever more!!

HotheadPaisan Mon 09-Dec-13 15:20:04

I like to hear 'how does that affect him/you?' if you are genuinely interested, could chat on all day about it. I definitely like the compliments but not when people follow it up with an attempt to minimise. I know things could be worse but equally they could be a lot easier but they are not, and that is ok, most of the time.

I most want to hear 'is there anything that would help?'. It doesn't matter that 'you' can't do the helping, it's just nice to acknowledge that you acknowledge the fact that help is needed. And sometimes nothing can help with a particular issue, it's just got to be got through. Still nice to have the fact that additional support is needed acknowledged.

Could kiss the feet of the man who removed his DC with no fuss when I asked and the woman who did not remove her DC (who DS had not focused his unhappiness on) and asked if there was anything she could do to help when DS1 had a huge meltdown at a recent event. They made a difficult situation a whole lot easier and less lonely and stressful than it could have been.

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