Special needs guide for idiots


I’m too polite. Everyone tells me this. Sometimes I wish I could change what I said when I’m fielding questions from virtual strangers about my daughter Meredith, who has intellectual disabilities. So, to all the people out there who have pushed my button, this one’s for you.

Girl holding clown puppet at Gymboree: “Oh, Meredith looks a little sleepy today?”
What I said: “No, she’s developmentally delayed, which means her processing is slower. Remember? I explained this last week and the week before”.
What I should have said: “Your puppet is not making me happy.”

A mom’s comment after looking at Meredith for the first time: “Can they fix it?”
What I said: “We’re hoping this eye patch will work.”
What I should have said: “Can they fix you?”

Little boy: When he sees Meredith arrive at the speech therapy clinic, he says: “Hey Mom! Here comes that funny girl! You know, the one that can’t walk.”
What I said: “It’s OK,” I assure his embarrassed mother. “He’s just making an observation.”
What I should have said: “Thanks for the reminder!”

Husband (not an idiot): “So, what did you do today?”
What I said: “I took Meredith to two therapy appointments, Caroline has an ear infection and the morons at our insurance company don’t care whether Meredith ever walks.”
What I should have said: “I increased my Paxil to 80 mg.”.

Old Lady No. 1: After learning Meredith is missing the center fibers in the brain, she said “You know, her brain will grow back.”
What I said: “Well, actually I’m afraid it won’t. But someday science may come up with some answers.”
What I should have said: “Apparently your brain has not grown back either.”

An acquaintance: “If you had known about Meredith’s condition before she was born, would you still have had her?”
What I said: “I can’t imagine not having her in my life.”
What I should have said: “If your mother had known what an insensitive twit you would become, would she still have had you?”

Occupational therapist: “Can Meredith retrieve this raisin from the vial?”
What I said: “I dunno. I’ve never asked her to retrieve a raisin from a vial.”
What I should have said: “No, but she did retrieve a raisin from her nose.”

Old Lady No. 2: “You know, God must think you’re awfully special to have given you a child like Meredith.”
What I said: “Yes, so I’ve heard.”
What I should have said: “After God finished creating Meredith, he began working on his quota of insensitive grandmothers and you were at the top of his list. Isn’t that special?”

Conversation with my friend Tonie, who has a child with autism: “Sometimes, our life bites.”
What I said: “Yeh…pass the tequila”
What I should have said: “Yeh…. pass the tequila. Again.”

Sarah Barnes
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  • Bernadette Noll
    Posted at 08:02h, 20 September

    Hilarious. I often wonder what the world would be like if we could give voice to our thought bubbles. I have a sister who is special needs and I remember my mom getting so pissed when someone would tell her “God must have known you could handle having a special needs child.” OR when someone would give her the poem entitled The Gift which was about the same thing. I do think it’s curious though when dealing with little kids who make comments – what is the right thing to do? Have them ignore the differences? Or welcome their questions? I think I go back and forth. I will say though that for my own children having a special needs aunt has definitely given them a wisdom they wouldn’t have otherwise. And then, there’s always tequila.

  • Sarah Barnes
    Posted at 06:33h, 21 September

    Thanks Bernadette! I’m so glad you “get it.” Hope others will too.

  • ginabad
    Posted at 07:06h, 21 October

    A friend passed me this link a month ago and I’m SO sorry I didn’t see it til now! A good laugh on a day I need it…

  • Sarah Barnes
    Posted at 11:46h, 22 October

    I’n so glad it was a bright spot in your day, ginabad. Thanks for your comment!

  • thomas blom
    Posted at 22:44h, 12 January

    Funny stuff… I share Bernadette’s wondering about kids… First they just say whatever they think, which of course can be insensitive, but I’m inclined to think is better than what usually ends up happening: we become so neurotic about what is ok or not ok to say (because mom or dad says “SSHHH, that’s not nice!” out of embarrassment) that standard operating procedure for most folks when faced with anyone out of the ordinary is “avert eyes and keep on walking”.

  • Sarah
    Posted at 07:59h, 13 January

    Hey, Thomas. Thank you for your gracious comments. Yes, “averting eyes” is totally what we get, which is preferable to the old ways in decades past where kids did say mean things. Ah, progress. Thanks again,

  • Beth
    Posted at 19:35h, 24 March

    I love it! My dad passed this on to me. You made me think of so many more times I wanted to say something, sometimes I admit I actually do, mostly though I just play these tapes in my head…..Like when people tell me that he is god’s gift. I just think, “that’s your way of saying your glad he didn’t give him to you” or “boy aren’t I lucky that he thinks so highly of me, I wonder what he gives you when he doesn’t like you”. One time I actually told someone I wasn’t sure what kind of god they believed in that would disable children. Though the good feeling of trumping someone only feels good for a fleeting second, then you feel like a heel. But, sometimes….a stranger once asked me, while I was pregnant, if my second child would have the same problems-REALLY?! The worst was when someone who was chasing her walking child around told me I should feel lucky my child coudln’t walk yet-to this day I feel badly for her being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because I was not in my usual space of diplomatic answers and I lost it- I basically told her feeling lucky that my 28 month old child couldn’t walk wasn’t my first choice of emotion- but, not quite that nicely….thankfully, those moments don’t happen often.

    It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one that thinks these other responses. People just don’t get it. I have a brother with downs-as well as a child with CP- and I have been told off in public for expecting him to behave. I honestly don’t think it’s ok for a 35 year old man to throw himself on the floor because he had to make a stop before going bowling. Somehow though it’s ok because….and they just leave it at that. Thanks for a good laugh.

  • Mary Irvine
    Posted at 08:17h, 09 August

    Thank you, Sarah, for showing us your balloon thoughts. I’ve had a ton of them myself, including “Well, at least my child is sweet and thoughtful.”