This Is My Child: what you can do to help

"I tell you what I always want to hear but rarely do: 'How can I help?' 'What do you need?'" HotheadPaisan

There are some things anyone can do to make life a little bit easier for people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.

  • "I want people to understand that if they just adapt a teeny bit, it can have a humongous positive effect for our children. Whether that is folding up your standard buggy to make room for a Maclaren Major, not being bothered by the squeals or running commentary of the child behind you at the cinema, being pleased that your socially adept child wants to invite home a child with special needs (even though all the other mothers are horrified)." PolterGoose

If you see a child who seems to be behaving unusually (or even badly) - don't stare.

And don't assume that the adults looking after the child aren't doing the best they can to manage the situation. Offering 'constructive' advice to a parent who's in the middle of dealing with a distressed child is unlikely to be very helpful, unless you're politely offering real, kind, practical support.

  • "My boy will make funny movements and sounds in public, and I understand that children will stare, but adults should know better. We were always taught it's rude to stare, but today no-one says that. It is hurtful to be gawped at, or abused, when out and about." sickofsocalledexperts
  • "Staring is one of the worst things. If my son is kicking off in public, the VERY last thing I need is anyone gawping. He is NOT a freak show, just a frightened, overwhelmed little boy who doesn't know how else to express his frustration other than melting down. That is part of his disability, and something completely out of his control." Googlyeyes
  • "Staring is just about the worst thing you can do. If you're really interested in my child, I'm happy to talk to you and tell you all about him. If I look like I'm struggling, perhaps I am, and could do with a simple 'can I help at all? I don't actually always have the answers, or know why my son is doing something, or what to do about it, any more than you do. The best thing you can do is be interested in my child as you would be any other child." Bialystockandbloom
  • "On being told of a child's diagnosis, you can just say: 'Oh, I'm afraid I don't know very much about that. You might have to tell me what to do to help'." StarlightMckenzie
  • "If your small child is asking you questions [about my child], I'd rather you asked me or got them to say 'hello' to my child than shush and drag them away." TheNinjaGooseIsOnAMission

We all know how difficult it can be to say the 'right' thing in an unfamiliar situation. But remember that children with disabilities and their parents are just like anyone else; they want to be treated with kindness and respect, and to have friendly interactions with other families and their children. Don't shout like a monoglot on a foreign holiday; it doesn't mean you'll be better understood.

  • "I love my daughter, end of. No, I don't 'wish I could cure her' or wish 'the antenatal tests would have been right so I could have aborted her'. I don't think 'it is a shame' that she has Down's and I don't want to hear about how 'in my day the likes of them would have been locked away'." Proudmum74
  • "Telling the parent of a newly disabled or newly diagnosed child 'well at least it's not cancer' is not helpful. And just because I look like I'm coping right now doesn't mean it's not bloody difficult, alright? BerthaTheBogCleaner
  • "Please don't ever, ever refer to me as a special mother. All that does is reinforce the idea that me and mine are set apart somehow. The last thing on earth I want." googlyeyes

Many parents speak of the sadness their children experience when they're left out of peer activities. Something as simple as an invite to a playdate or birthday party can make a big difference.

  • "Why don't parents of neurotypical kids include kids with special needs? They come to my daughter's parties but never invite her back." Riven

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Last updated: 04-Sep-2013 at 9:26 AM