Don’t Be an Instant Expert

My column today is on things you shouldn’t say to parents of kids with special needs.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments and feedback on this one. It seemed to strike a chord with exasperated parents who have heard just about everything from friends, family or strangers when it comes to their kids who have special needs.  (One woman added in the comments, “And don’t forget ‘What did you do differently with this one when you were pregnant?'”)

I can understand why people might be at a loss to talk with parents about their kids who have challenges or disabilities. If you’re worried about what to say, here’s a general rule of thumb: don’t try to be an instant expert.

One of the byproducts of the Internet Age is that people have access to so much more information.We know more about things like autism now than we did 15 or 20 years ago. And so we’re prone to developing our own theories, based on things we’ve seen or read or at least glanced at the headline.

This is true of parenting in general, and many other things as well. Just read the comments section on most articles and you’ll see a host of people who will tell you exactly what other people should or shouldn’t be doing.

Here’s my caution: reading one Newsweek article or blog post doesn’t make any of us an expert. And chances are a parent has done more reading and talking to professionals than a casual observer. So people should pause and think before they offer advice on what parents should be doing to treat their kid with autism, or ADHD, or whatever else.

We’re rife with instant experts these days. My general rule of thumb, not just with parenting but with most things, is this: the more certain someone acts of their own infallible rightness, the more I take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

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