Human curiosity seems to fall into two personality types. One is like your awkward Aunt Blanche. You know, the aunt who will corner you at any family gathering sniff out your tender spots and then jab them with her costume jewelry bejeweled arthritic fingers. She loves you, but she just seems to lack forethought or a filter when it comes to her endless questioning. The other is silent, but ever watching, Aunt Madge. She won’t say a single word to you at the family gathering, but she has not taken her eyes off you since you walked in the door. Let me try and encourage you to not be a Blanche or a Madge when it comes to talking to people about their special needs kids. Be yourself, ask thoughtful but direct questions and then the big thing is to actually listen and learn.
I personally love when people are direct and ask me questions about my special needs son. He is an incredible dude and since he isn’t talking yet, I love helping you two become acquainted. My first bit of advice would be to be you. Don’t baby talk and don’t pinch cheeks. Talk to him like you would talk to anyone else and then be okay with any reaction, even if that means there is no reaction. Think common courtesy, introduce yourself, try to make eye contact. Bonus points if you get down to his level. All children, special needs children included, interact with others in their own unique way. Be patient and keep trying.
My second bit of advice is to ask direct and thoughtful questions. Don’t point at my son’s bald patches on his head and ask if he got a hold of the clippers. First of all, what a rude thing to imply. Second, do you really think he got a hold of clippers? Of course not, what you are really wondering is “Why does your son have bald spots?” So don’t wrap the question in something else, just ask me about his bald spot. That being said, another good test is to check your question again before asking and ask yourself would you want to discuss this topic if it was about you?
My last tidbit would be to listen carefully to the answer. I am happy to educate you about what makes my son special. But please remember, it is not small talk to me, it is important. So please do your best to learn.
All parents love to talk about their kids! So please just ask us, be wise, be kind, and be you.