Parents of kids with special needs get asked the oddest questions

"Stranger: 'He’s not regular, is he?'"

special-needs-safety-Syona
Syona, right, at an event this past summer. Photo: Anchel Krishna

My husband, Dilip, and five-year-old daughter, Syona, have a Saturday morning tradition: They head to the grocery store together. Syona recently learned how to hold onto (and take bites from) a whole apple, and the novelty of it hasn’t worn off yet. Now she wants to eat all her fruit whole. Syona’s cerebral palsy challenges her fine motor skills, so holding an apple requires a lot of coordination. A few weeks ago, Dilip had an exchange at the grocery store with a woman:

Woman: “Why is she holding her apple like that?”
Dilip: “She has cerebral palsy. It impacts her muscles and makes it hard for her to do things like hold an apple and walk, which is why she is sitting in the grocery cart.”
Woman: “Oh. Well, you shouldn’t let her hold the apple like that. If my kid held the apple like that, I would take it away.”
Dilip: “Yeah, I’m going to continue to let her hold her apple and eat it.”

When Dilip told me about this exchange, it got me wondering about what other strange encounters that parents of kids with special needs have had. I decided to reach out to some of my friends and they told me the following stories:

Question directed at a mother with a kid in a wheelchair:
Woman: “She is a little old for a stroller, no?”
Mom: “Yes, that’s why she is in a wheelchair.”

Comment made to the mother of a kid who requires a feeding tube:
Stranger: “If you had just fed him more, he wouldn’t need a feeding tube.”
Mom: “If only I’d thought of that myself!”

Comment made to the mother of two boys with Down syndrome:
Stranger: “He must only have a little bit of Down syndrome. Who knows, maybe he’ll grow out of it? Who has the bad genes?”
Mom: “Both of us. We adopted.”

Question directed at the caregiver of a little boy with a genetic condition:
Stranger: “He’s not regular, is he?”

Comment made to the mother of a young girl who is hearing impaired:
Stranger: “She should speak up if she missed something.”

Question directed at several parents:
Stranger: “Will he die?” or “What is her life expectancy?”
Best parent response: “Quite possibly longer than yours if you don’t learn to mind your own business.”

When I posted this question via social media last week, I received nearly 100 responses! It resulted in a very active conversation, with moments of hilarity and quiet reflection. I’m all for people asking questions and opening up dialogues about people with special needs. But it would be nice if certain people used a little more tact, applied some common sense and thought about whether they would want to be asked the same thing if the situation were reversed.

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary five-year-old with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.

Read more:
The cost of raising a special needs child>
5 things you should say to parents of kids with special needs>

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