It happens often enough that I brace for it. I say “My daughter has special needs” or “My daughter has moderate cognitive disabilities” and the person I’m explaining it too suddenly channels David Tennant playing Doctor Who –
Seriously, this happens a lot.
And I often wonder – why are they sorry? And then I remember – because the world thinks being disabled is, like, the worst.
So I try to assure them that we’re cool with it, but they keep saying sorry.
Listen, I get it. You think you’re being empathetic. To an able-bodied person, becoming disabled sounds awful. To a parent, having something “wrong” with your child seems to be the worst thing that could happen. You think you’re being kind, being thoughtful, being sympathetic to what you perceive as our burden, our cross to bear, our struggle.
So I’m here to tell you – just stop it.
No, really, stop.
It’s an awful way to respond.
You say sorry as if it’s awful to have a child like mine even when you haven’t met said child. Because if you had met my daughter, you would know that her life is awesome and fabulous, just like my daughter. It’s not a life to be pitied or to cry over. It’s an awesome life lived fully. She loves and is loved.
When you repeatedly tell me how sorry you are that my daughter has disabilities, you may not realize that you are implying that maybe you think she shouldn’t exist. Because in a Perfect World, there’d be no disabilities. In a Perfect World, every child would be born able. You may not mean to say you’re sorry my daughter exists with all her disabilities, but you unintentionally imply it.
And that’s just not cool.
So, what can you say instead of “I’m so sorry” when I tell you my daughter has disabilities?
“Oh, tell me more.”
“Oh, okay, want more coffee?”
“I’m totally not good with these things and don’t know how to react but I’m sure your daughter is every bit as fabulous as you.”
The best answer I’ve ever gotten came from one of the movers when our stuff arrived in Ireland. Maura was so excited to see our stuff had arrived, that she ran up to the head mover and babbled excitedly at him. His eyebrows raised slightly, because she didn’t use anything close to English in her babbling. I decided to give the disclaimed – “She has some special needs.”
The man shrugged. “Ah well, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
And he was absolutely right.
There is nothing wrong with having a disability, or having a child with a disability.
So please, stop telling me how sorry you are. It’s all good here.