If, How, and When to Give Advice to Special Needs Parents

Maybe there’s been a time when you wanted to give a piece of advice or an opinion to a special needs parent, but you weren’t sure if it was a good idea or not. Never fear! I’m writing this guide for you to determine if your advice will most likely be well apprecited or resentfully rejected. Here are three simple questions you should ask yourself before doling out advice:

  1. Have you invested time and energy into building and maintaining a relationship with the parent and child in question? If your answer is no, stop here. You haven’t earned the right to an opinion. Do not give advice. If your answer is yes, please move on to the next question.
  2. Have you educated yourself about the child’s specific special needs and how they effect that child and family’s daily life?  If your answer is no, stop here. You haven’t earned the right to an opinion. Do not give advice.    Note: Knowing someone else with the same condition does not automatically qualify you as “educated” on a complex topic. If your answer is yes, please move on to the next question.
  3. Have you asked the person if they are open to receiving advice right now? If your answer is no, stop here. Please ask first, because now may not be a good time. If your answer is yes, and they said yes, CONGRATULATIONS: You have earned the right to an opinion and giving advice!

Now that you know you are in a legitimate position to give advice, is there a right and wrong way to do that? Great question!  And the answer is yes.

The right way: In love and encouragement and without accusation.

Example: I’ve noticed that a change in routine seems to cause anxiety in your child. Have you considered using visual schedules to see if that helps?     

The person in this example has invested time and energy in the relationship,  which is how they are able to notice a trigger for the child and a change in the child’s behavior.  They have educated themselves about this child’s specific special needs, which is how they know that anxiety is a factor and how they are familiar with proven strategies that may help. Their response is rooted in love and wanting to help the child.

The wrong way: In judgment and by exploiting fear of failure.

Example: Your kids gotta learn that things don’t always go their way! If you don’t teach them some flexibility, they’ll never be able to hold down a job!

The person in this example has not invested in a relationship with this parent and child, or else they would know how long and hard this parent has been working to teach flexibility of schedule. They have not educated themselves about this child’s specific special needs, or else they would know the problem is common and complex and has nothing to do with the child “always getting their way,” which is also accusatory. This person’s “advice” is not rooted in love, but in judgment: they accuse the parent of not teaching their child. It also exploits the parent’s fear that they will fail their child and their child will not grow to be as independent as possible.

So now we’ve talked about IF you should give advice, and HOW you should give advice, but what about WHEN?

Try to avoid giving advice at a time that the parent is overwhelmed. Wait until they are relaxed and can process your advice clearly. If the parent is going through a crisis with their child, you may be tempted to “fix it” right now because you don’t want to see them suffering. But it may be wiser to wait for a calmer time when the parent is not already berating themselves for not being good enough. During a crisis, just be there. Just love. Refrain from giving advice unless directly asked.

So there you have it. The IF, the HOW,and the WHEN of giving advice to special needs parents. If you are one of the lucky few who qualify as advice-givers, then thank you. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for loving our special kids and families. We need you.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christi Hall Haskell
    Nov 23, 2015 @ 07:32:36

    GUILTY!!! I am sorry. It’s just really frustrating to know and hear what you and Japheth are going through and being powerless to halt or stop it. I have only seen Javan when he is portraying his sweet side. I have seen some MILD outburst but nothing compared to what you have blogged here. I’m a parent and your dad is a parent however, our comments get lost on the fact that we have not dealt personally with a child with Javan’s special needs. Again i’m sorry we love all three off you and wish you the best of luck. Don’t give up. Help is out there. The right kind. Not fools like us. Love yall


  2. Michele Swint
    Nov 23, 2015 @ 10:56:55

    Thank you for sharing your insight. I can only imagine the pain you’ve experienced to prompt a post on this subject. ♡


  3. Withheld
    Nov 23, 2015 @ 15:55:31

    We had to deal with the wrong way from family, and it was very stressful. They were indignant that we insisted on their help on our own terms. Imagine that! The parents of the child having the final say in their own child’s upbringing!

    They also refused to help unless we did it their way. They accused or parenting as being “a joke.”


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