(Amy Joyce)

Earlier, I wrote about the four things parents of kids with special needs don’t need or like to hear. Everyone means well, but sometimes their good intentions get lost in the wrong words. So now, I share four things I love to hear.

“He looks happy.” This is true for any kid. Forget what classes he’s taking or how well his soccer team did or whether he aced his last spelling test. If my child is happy, then I’m happy. Noticing that, and sharing it, will make my day every single time.

“Can I babysit for you?” An offer to watch the kids for the evening while we go out for dinner and a movie is a gift. Obviously, that’s the case whether your child has special needs or not. But, depending on the child’s disability, it can be difficult (or extremely expensive) to find someone who can stay with them for a few hours. It’s easier to enjoy the break when you know your child is safe, in his home, with a trusted friend.

“You look like you’re having a bad day.” If you see us out and about, and we’re having a tough time with our child’s behavior, instead of rolling your eyes or sighing or staring, just smile, acknowledge that things look rough and move on. No one is more miserable than my son in those moments, and not all public meltdowns are a sign of bad parenting or a bratty kid. A little understanding can make a challenging situation so much more tolerable. I will never forget the time a dad just smiled at me and said “We’re all just thanking our lucky stars that it isn’t us right now.” Little gestures like that mean a lot.

Just ask a question. I love questions: About my son or his disability, about my other child, about work, about how I’m feeling, about the latest episode of “Parenthood.” I would much rather answer open and sincere questions than try to have an awkward conversation rooted in unnecessary pity. Asking shows that you care and you’re interested, without inadvertently expressing that you think a child with a disability is somehow less than. That is huge. And it is not offensive to admit you don’t know much about autism (or any other disability), and to ask. I’m always happy to explain what it means for my son.

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