Everybody Must get Stoned: Criticism of Special Needs Parents

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Sorry to disappoint, but this is not about legalization of marijuana; rather ‘everybody must get stoned,’ refers to the criticism, judgement and insensitivity that special needs parents face at every angle.   

Bob Dylan hits the nail on the head –you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.  Everyone will find something to criticize, hence the linesBut I would not feel so all alone; Everybody must get stoned.

Perhaps, I could just Shake it Off, like Taylor Swift, but it can be tough at times, particularly when the insinuation is that my child is somehow lacking or not measuring up. That the behavior seen during a fleeting moment in time is not due to disability, but because of my parenting.

As a special needs parent I’ve had to develop a thick skin, simply to maintain my mental health.  Whether I’m looking to my tribe out there on the interweb or sitting in a restaurant, there is no lack of criticism, shaming, insensitive comments and judgement. The stones just keep on coming.

The parenting shame game

Oftentimes that criticism is based on a single interaction, perhaps lasting 15 minutes or less.  Let that sink in.  Rather than consider the other 23 hours and 45 minutes per day, 365 days per year, makes a snap judgement about my parenting skills in those short moments.  Parenthood is not a contest, folks.  In 15 minutes you can’t see the countless hours that led up to a moment in time.

Whether I’m looking to my tribe out there on the interweb or sitting in a restaurant, there is no lack of criticism, shaming and judgement for special needs parents. The stones just keep on coming. Click To Tweet

In fact, a 2013 study about overcoming judgement among parents of children with special needs, showed that parents felt most judged by family members, strangers in a public setting, friends and colleagues, closely followed by teachers, coaches, doctors, nurses and social service workers. Yes, the struggle is real.

Humor Helps

Personally, I use humor and sarcasm as an outlet for my frustration. Humor is an important social outlet because it is both a coping strategy, as well as a way to make deeply emotional content more socially palatable.  Or, like the old adage says, “many a true word is said in jest.”

That being said, I’ve compiled a truth-in-jest list of the types of people I’ve encountered over the years that I’ll refer to as typical ‘stone-throwers’.  Those who judge your parenting skills, shame you, or are just plain insensitive.

Cast of Characters

1. Brazenista

Brazen and ballsy as the day is long, the Brazenista will walk up and say something directly to your child under the guise of being helpful.  Might say things like, “Be thankful you’re not MY son/daughter, I’d have…,” or “A big girl/boy like you shouldn’t be acting like this,” in an attempt to demonstrate just how inferior your parenting skills are.

2. Camouflager

The Camouflager is most commonly a medical professional who refuses to see that your child could possibly have any other medical condition than their primary diagnosis. This person makes you feel stupid for even suggesting otherwise, or for asking questions. An example of camouflager practice would be the doctor who insists the stomach pain your child is experiencing is because of “Autism,” and it’s something you’ll just need to accept. It’s as though they are simply blind to any symptom separate from the most obvious diagnosis.

3. Denier

This is the person who refuses to believe that ADHD is a real condition.  They criticize you for not spanking or disciplining your child.  Insists that spending time running around outside will “fix” it, and that medication is just the result of lazy parenting.  Will often say things like, “Just let ME have your child for a week and I’ll straighten him/her out.”

4. Direct-Avoider

Similar to the Brazenista, in that they have something to say about your parenting skills, but won’t say it directly.  The Direct-Avoider is passive-aggressive and will instead direct a comment for you to the person they are with, but loud enough for your benefit.  For example, the Direct-Avoider at the local amusement park who said to her friend that she would never put her child on a leash. This was in direct response to the safety harness we were using at the time, said loud enough so I could hear.

5. Dismisser

Cousin to the One-Upper, the Dismisser takes every concern you voice and deems it unworthy of consideration by saying things like “Well, that’s normal,” or “Every child does that.” Also known to say the phrase “Oh, don’t worry, (s)he’ll grow out of it.”

6. Glarer

Glaring at you to the point where you can almost feel it, the Glarer is most commonly found at the grocery store, but can be found in any public place.  Believes that staring will somehow magically make a meltdown disappear, most often because THEY feel uncomfortable.  Sometimes combined with head shaking and “tsk-tsk-tsking,” audible enough to confirm any suspicion that you are, indeed, being publicly shamed.

7. Internet Warrior

Keyboard cowboys who try to shut down parents who ask questions they don’t agree with, use the wrong terminology, talk about their own experiences, or voice an opinion that doesn’t match their own.  Rather than being supportive, or attempt to understand a parent’s point of view, the Internet Warrior will relentlessly shame and demean you via social media as a martyr who uses their child to gain sympathy.  Ironically, the Internet Warrior pounds fists on the table while boldly declaring that they are entitled to “speak their truth,” while shaming parents for speaking theirs.

Photo credit: The Education Tree

8. One Upper

Makes you feel bad for voicing a problem by immediately telling a similar story about themselves with an even larger problem or adversity faced.   The One Upper will start a sentence with, “I know what you mean…” and end with something ten times more horrible than what you’re describing. The One Upper’s story shames you into feeling as though you’re a horrible human being for thinking your problem was real, let alone voicing it.

9. Tactless Wonder

At first appears to empathize with you, until you realize the Tactless Wonder’s words are really just a pile of syrup-coated insensitivity.  Insinuating your child is less-than, this person will say things like, “I’m so sorry,” and “(S)he looks so normal!”  Or my personal favorite, “Your child suffers from [Autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, etc.].”  The only thing we are suffering from is YOU, Tactless Wonder.

10. Under-Estimator

Usually an education professional at the IEP meeting, the Under-estimator typically underestimates one or more of the following:
(1) YOU and your understanding of your rights, or willingness to employ an attorney,
(2) YOUR THRESHOLD for bullshit,
(3) YOUR CHILD’s abilities
This is the person with a laundry list of what your child cannot do, rather than highlight any accomplishment or growth.  They also may be unable to articulate strategies previously tried to address any item on the laundry list. Lastly, uses said laundry list to justify why new strategies can’t possibly be attempted. Ever. Wears you down by making you jump through hoops, also known as bureaucratic paperwork hell. Makes you feel like a self-entitled brat for even suggesting that your child deserves to get an education. Needs to be reminded frequently to follow the IEP.

11. Uneducated Spit-Baller

This person talks ad nauseam about every half-baked miracle cure on the internet as though your child needs to be fixed.  Hurling a list at you in an attempt to see what sticks, the Uneducated Spit-Baller will ask whether you’ve considered stem cell therapy in Mexico, along with a gazillion non-evidence based interventions.

12. Woke AF

The Woke AF person will attempt to demonstrate that they understand your life and its challenges by proclaiming solidarity with you. After all, their best friend’s aunt’s second cousin twice-removed has [Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, etc.], so they get it. Also known as an armchair activist, changes their Facebook status color to match the cause du jour.

Hang in there

If you’re a parent of a child who has special needs, chances are you’ve met your fair share of these folks. I hope I’ve brought a little humor to your day, while letting the Karens of the world know that words do matter. I know in some cases these folks are very well-intentioned, but perhaps don’t know what to say. That’s OK — in fact, just say precisely that — “I want to support you, but I don’t know what to say.” Just like most people, we want to be heard.

My heart goes out to every parent who has ever felt shame or judgement for doing their best.

Do you have a personal experience with this cast of characters? Let me know about it in the comments, or perhaps there’s a few I’ve left off the list — I’d love to hear from you!

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Take off the Judgy-Pants, they’re not your Color
This Mama is NOT the Complaint Department

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17 comments

  1. Yes, yes and yes! Gosh, I have written about the denier, the one-upper, the dismisser and the glarer. I haven’t written about the woke AF, but I have experienced this person and boy are they frustrating. The worst I ever felt though, and have never gutsied up the guts to write about is the keyboard cowboys. Man have I had my butt handed to me by a few internet warriors. And the only thing I said was “I am a parent to a child with autism.” Then I got all the nasty that you mentioned. Great list. Recently I read the book “Conversations About Autism” and honestly, the parents interviewed for that book mentioned all these characters too. One thing for sure, it is nice to connect with others who have experienced these people. They’re tough!

    • Thanks Robyn! I think the Internet Warriors make me the angriest – because sometimes looking online to find a tribe is the only option a parent in our position has. There are “Mommy Bloggers” everywhere who write about typical child milestones, potty training and give all kinds of advice when your kid hits the terrible 2’s — and these folks, the Internet Warriors, would suggest that’s OK, but what we do isn’t, because our children have special needs. Why shouldn’t *our* kiddos’ milestones be celebrated and written about? So what if they aren’t on a typical timeline — it doesn’t make them any less exciting or worth celebrating. All parents need support. For me, I look to all kinds of groups to understand different points of view — I read it all– and am respectful whether I agree or not. Even when I don’t agree, I often learn something new. Perhaps I’m naïve in saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” 🙂

      • A-MEN! I can’t tell you how many times I think to myself, “I can’t say this or that” because my child has special needs and the same rules don’t apply. And for me the Internet Warriors have been the meanest. I agree – I would just like for everyone to get along too. 🙂

  2. Thank you for this post! I group them all together as Judgey McJudgeypants, but there are definitely sub-groups. I agree that the Internet Warriors are the meanest. It’s doubly difficult when you feel isolated in your house and you’re just looking for some answers or some help.

    I found Robyn on the internet though and she’s been a godsend! And now she has introduced you, and I am thankful.🌻

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment — and I love Judgy McJudgey Pants! This article has really resonated with people — and that is a sad testament to the way things are. SO thankful for people like you and Robyn – you need to find your tribe! 🙂

  3. This is brilliant and sadly so apt. I think we have all been here with our kids. The one that sticks with me was two mums talking about my son. ‘But he seemed so normal’ followed by ‘well he can still come to the birthday party as I’m very inclusive’.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I have pretty thick skin, but man… over time, again and again and again… it’s sometimes hard to get back up. So thankful for you all who ‘get it’ — it helps to know you’ve got support.

  4. I have met with or have experienced judgment from each of the unknowing characters you brilliantly described! Like you I choose to remain positive and use humor to deal with hurting situations, but when ever possible, I also like to educate. This was a great read, thank you!

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I am amazed (and saddened) by how this resonates with special need parents.

  5. There is so much truth to this post! I have experienced everyone on this cast of characters, and I think the “Dismisser” can be the most frustrating. I also agree that humor can be a powerful medicine. Great post!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your kind words. Of all the things I’ve written that resonate with people, I’m probably the most saddened it’s *this* – showing that we have a lot of work to do as a society to move beyond “awareness” and into acceptance.

  6. OMG I THINK THIS MIGHT BE ONE OF THE MOST BRILLIANT POSTS I’VE EVER READ. And SO. True. Oh the #5s I have met!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Much thanks and love, seriously, still laughing yet feeling ULTRA validated and seen,
    Full Spectrum Mama

    • Thanks so much, Full Spectrum Mama! This post has gotten tons of reactions — which is bittersweet; it tells me there’s a long way to go from awareness to acceptance.

  7. One time my son was having a huge melt down in a public library. I was getting a ton of glares and was trying so hard to pick up my three year old son to take outside and calm him down, in the beginning I didn’t know what would set him off. I got mostly glares but then an older man came up and started pulling candy out of his pant pockets (must have been a nice grandpa or something) he was so nice to offer help but he had no idea what I needed to do and that was not to reward my sons behaviors with something sweet. I thanked him and explained to the man that my son has Autism. I said I just need to take him somewhere quiet to calm down then we will come back in.

    Another time when I registered my son in a city art program for children he would start to get frustrated with communication skills. The program was for nerotypical kids. They did not have programs for children on the spectrum so I signed him up for that . One of the mothers looked at another mother when she saw my son walk in and said loud enough for everyone to hear “Why is HE in this class, he shouldn’t be here.” that mom made sure to keep her child away from mine. If my son got frustrated with directions I was always there to help guide him through PECs cards and if he became overwhelmed I would take him out of the room where we could calm down then try again.

    Some other things said about my son-
    “Isn’t there a room you can just stick him in” said by a public school speech therapist when my son started to have a melt down because of communication problems.
    ‘” He fell and bumped his head, that’s how he got that knot,”
    “The video from the bus incident wasn’t working that day, so we don’t know what happened to your son”

    Finally after a couple years of bad teachers, therapist and cruel people I found some really kind people to help us and my husband and I decided to home school. My son speaks, reads and everyone who remembers him from that time is amazed at how far he has come.

    He is attending college now and wants a degree in something in science. He is also working on keeping his grade point average up for a scholarship to the university he wants to attend. So far he is getting it as long as his grades stay the same this semester.

    There are some areas he will always struggle in but he is speaking and that to me was the one thing I had wanted so much when I remember the days when he would just spin my husband’s bike wheel over and over, never giving eye contact and if we tried to take him from it he would scream.

    The most shocking thing I learned from this whole experience was how cruel some people can be and they were always other mothers and women. I am a mother and would never think to act the way some have over the years toward my special needs children. Even other mothers in the Autism community would give me sneers when I said I am going to try things a different way. Every child is different and every mother knows their children and what works best for them in the long run.

    I would still do everything I did. I don’t judge others and their teaching style or their choices and I only want the same back. Great post, I probably have run into all the different types you listed above. Both my children are on the spectrum. Always important to laugh.

    • Thank you so much for your comments! Yes, people can be utterly insensitive and outright cruel. Your comment about your son being in college gives me hope for the future! So often my daughter is underestimated – and she is capable! Thanks so much for sharing your story!

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