I recently posted about what you should never say to the parent of a child with a special need. People don't know what to say, but feel the need to say something. Unfortunately, that something may be hurtful to both the parent and child. Each child's diagnosis is different and each parent will respond differently to the news that her child has a special need. When meeting a special needs family or learning that the child of someone you already know is facing a diagnosis, there are words you can say that are welcomed and even appreciated.

Hello, How Are You?

Many families of children with special needs often feel isolated. Sometimes people notice, stare, and walk away because they just don't know what to say. Avoiding a conversation with another parent because their child has a special need is not the way to go. Instead, start talking just as you would to any other parent. Introduce yourself. Ask how old her child is and what grade he's in. Have a normal conversation.

Ask Questions

It isn't completely inappropriate to ask questions about a child with special needs. It just matters what kind of questions you ask. It helps to start by saying, "If you don't mind me asking..." Some parents might and some might not. But either way it becomes her choice whether or not to talk about her child's condition. You can ask what his diagnosis is, and what it means for him on a daily basis. Most importantly, speak with respect for the child.

Interact

If your child has a peer with special needs in his class, do not exclude that child from parties or activities. The best approach is to try to ignite a friendship between them, which will be beneficial for both children. You can start by asking the parent if her child can play with yours. If the answer is yes, you can set up a play date, or if you're already at the park, you can have a play date right then and there. Be sure to talk to any child with special needs as you would any "typical" child, even if the child is non-verbal. It might be hard at first because you will be anxious about saying the wrong thing, but it will soon be natural.

Show Support

If is difficult to find that right words to say to a friend or family member whose child has been diagnosed with a special need. The parents themselves are feeling scared, alone, angry, depressed, or most likely a mix of all of these emotions. The best thing to do is to remind them of your support. This is one of those times in life when people know who their real friends are. An "I'm sorry" is acceptable at this moment because you are sorry and so are the parents. But soon these parents will have to forget about their own pain (at least some of the time) and move forward in caring for their child, and you should too.

Ask if you can babysit so the parents can run errands, have a date, or spend one-on-one time with another child. Or you can prepare some meals for them that they can freeze. Maybe a mom needs someone to go to the doctor's appointments with her so that she can talk to the doctor while you play with and tend to her child. Offering your continuous help and support is greatly appreciated.

Educate Yourself

If a child in your life has a special need, educate yourself. Learn about what life is like for the parents, the child, and any siblings. This is especially important if you ever hope to babysit. My parents have learned to do all of my daughter's treatments. Because of this, we are able to go out alone together without worrying about whether or not she is getting all of her medications, or her physical therapy is being done correctly. Being able to talk to someone about her condition helps with the isolation that parents of children with special needs can often feel. The more you know, the more you can help.

Advice From Readers

Many of you commented on the original post (What Not to Say) with some great ideas about what is good to say. Here are examples straight from the parents of children with special needs:

  • Ask, "May I do something to help?"
     
  • Say, "I am here to listen."
     
  • Ogle your friends' child all the time. Nothing feels better than having a friend go on and on about how cute your kid is.
     
  • Involve your friends' child in the same things you'd involve other children, and make adjustments so they can be involved.
     
  • Allow your friend to go on and on about their child even if you're sick of hearing it or had heard it all yesterday.
     
  • Invite them over for dinner, even if their kid destroys your stuff.
     
  • Teach your own children how to play with the child who has a disability.
     
  • One of the nicest things I've heard: "I know it must be very challenging, but you must be very proud of your son."