“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
This is the response I have heard after explaining my son’s diagnosis which is a rare form of dwarfism called Thanatophoric Dysplasia Dwarfism.
When I encounter this remark, I have found it easiest to comment, “He’s easy to love.” I don’t want the person I’m speaking with to feel bad for me. So, I answer with the truth, my son is a joy to raise. Then I’ll pull out my iPhone and show a picture of our little guy smiling. That always gets a good response.
I do; however, understand this reaction. When a child has challenges, however great or small, it is cause for concern and in this case sympathy.
Sympathy because I am living a different reality than most people experience with a non-special needs child. Unlike other children, my son is not asking me a hundred questions a day or begging me to buy him candy at the check-out counter. He is not struggling with his homework or telling me about his day at school.
He does demand cereal and is frequently absorbed by his iPad. I’m sure this is normal for a non-special needs child too. He loves his hospital homebound teachers and enjoys showing off for them. His face will light up at the sound of laughter and he often joins in. And we are teaching him how to walk and coaching him to say “Mama” and “Papa.”
Did I mention he is ten years old?
So I understand the reaction and even the apology. It comes from the heart of someone who can’t empathize not having travelled the road we are on. And, that is okay. If my son hadn’t been born with special needs; perhaps, I may have said the same thing to another mom, not understanding.
Kind hearted, good people genuinely don’t know what to say to another’s unthinkable circumstances. Whether those circumstances are raising a special needs child, handling the loss of a loved one or caring for an elderly parent. Or any other challenging circumstance. Unless someone has worn those shoes, empathy can’t be comprehended.
So, how can you relate to a special needs mother? Ask questions. Do less talking and more listening. (I’m working on this one.) Get a sense for what she is experiencing. Offer helpful advice if you can relate. Our little guy has a diaper rash right now. Though another mom may not be raising a special needs child, she could offer me advice on how to help my son with this uncomfortable problem. The lesson here is to find common ground and camp there.
I’m sure I’ll receive more comments as I continue to raise my miracle. At first, I may pause but after reflection, I can rest knowing the person was interested enough to ask and engage with me. The exchange hopefully offers me an opportunity to bring awareness to not only my son’s diagnosis but to the world of special needs in general.
How do you handle the comments of a stranger or even a friend?
What common ground do you find when talking with someone going through a challenging circumstance.
Share your story in the comments below. We can all learn from one another.
Written By Evelyn Mann
Author, WIP, A Miracle In My Living RoomThe one who listens gains more than the one who is speaking. Evelyn Mann Click To Tweet