Motherhood

How to Navigate a Special Needs Encounter

How to Navigate a Special Needs Encounter, by Amy Webb

As the mom of a child with a disability, there are four things I wish everyone knew…


It was during our routine 18-week ultrasound that we found out our second daughter would be disabled.

At the time, hearing the doctor tell us that all of her limbs were “deformed, misshapen and in some cases missing bones altogether” was a gut punch that knocked the wind out of us. I literally couldn’t breathe as I sobbed with my face buried in my hands.

It’s strange to look back at that ultrasound appointment now and realize how differently I view the entire situation. Yes, my daughter’s limbs are quite different — thus the common term used to describe her disability as having “limb differences.” Her left arm stops above the elbow — a short round nub. Her right arm is a little longer, but still short with no elbow and a small, atypical hand. Her legs are also both shorter, and different lengths at that, but she does have two feet, which she uses for most fine motor skills like writing and assembling lego spaceships. Yes, the doctor was correct about her limbs, but other than that, he didn’t tell us a damn thing!

Ultrasound machines are not “future predicting machines.” If that ultrasound had been really accurate our appointment might have gone something like this:

Doctor: “Looks like your daughter has a wicked sense of humor, an incredibly compassionate heart and if I’m seeing things correctly it looks like she’ll be born with extra awesome, as well. Congrats. It looks like you’ve got a helluva kid joining your family.”

Us: “Well, what about the limb differences, Doc? Should we be worried?”

Doctor, chuckles: “Compared to everything else she’s got going on, small potatoes, guys. Like I said, you guys are lucky. I just had to deliver an ‘asshole’ diagnosis the other day and it was devastating.”

Luckily, it didn’t take long for us to realize that there was nothing tragic about our daughter or her disability. She was a sweet baby and grew into one of the kindest and most polite toddlers I’ve ever known — in fact one of her first words was “thank you.” She is still extremely tenderhearted to this day, but also has a wicked sense of humor because, you know, balance. As we’ve spent the past eight years being her parents, we’ve also become her advocates. It wasn’t too long ago that we used to see disability as inherently negative, sad and undesirable. And because we viewed disability through a negative filter we were also used to couching our interactions around disability with pity. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I really understood what pity was and how harmful it could be.

The line between pity and empathy is razor thin. My general rule to differentiate between the two is that empathy stems from listening to another person’s perspective and reacting accordingly. Pity, however, assumes. Assuming that a person with a disability automatically has a harder, sadder life because of their disability. Yes, people with disabilities get down on their lives and their bodies, just like we all do (hair, skin, acne, weight) but there is a big difference between listening to a person’s frustrations and then empathizing, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a bad hair day — that sucks!” vs. ASSUMING you know someone’s feelings and then commenting or teaching other people how to make those assumptions — “Wow, your hair looks awful today, you must really feel self conscious. You are so brave for going out in public like that.”

Nowadays I see disability with so much color, variance and possibility. Disability is just another way to exist in this world, and it is not inherently wrong, sad or undesirable. It just IS.

Over the past eight years, we’ve navigated a lot of interactions between our daughter and other children she meets for the first time. Having a very visible disability — and an awesome pink wheelchair, beep, beep! — means that she never flies under the radar. I’ve seen many children stare and point at her in disbelief, some grabbing at her arms and some vocalizing their concerns. “MOM! What happened to that girl’s arm?” And likewise, I’ve seen many parents and caretakers at a loss for how to navigate what they view as an embarrassing situation. It may seem like the best idea is to leave. Immediately. And many of them do, while shushing their children because it seems like the polite thing to do. I’m sure I would have once done the same thing. But now I know better, and when you know better you do better. Therefore, I’d like to suggest an alternative: Stay.

I’ve developed a formula for navigating these conversations with young children, and I’d like to share the four steps with you, below:

1) Don’t Walk Away + Questions Are Okay

The emotions that a child feels when seeing another child with special needs can range from curious, to nervous, to just plain confused. Let your child know that questions are okay. For example, if your child points at my daughter and says, “What happened to her arm?!” my suggestion would be to get down on your child’s level and explain that some people are born differently than other people. I then often refer to other differences, like hair color, skin color, glasses, etc. It may help to reference friends or relatives who have a wheelchair, walker, etc. Invite your child to introduce him or herself to the other child. If the caregiver is nearby, you may want to reach out to them and say, “My child has some questions about your son/daughter, can you tell us a little about him/her?” Most parents I know are happy to share what makes their kiddo unique.

Leaving the situation can unintentionally reinforce an “other” mentality, suggesting to our kids that a person with a disability is not someone we interact or play with. Staying and having a conversation can instead build bridges of friendship. Because we don’t view disability as negative, because we are not ashamed of our daughter’s differences, we can talk about them openly.

2) Reinforce Kindness

While it’s important not to shame kids for their curiosity, it’s also very important to let children know in no uncertain terms that certain things are NOT okay. It’s not okay to point, stare, laugh, call names or use rude words. Even if your child does this innocently — “She looks weird!” — please correct them. For example, “That’s not a nice word, and that might hurt her feelings” or “She’s has different arms than yours, but she’s not weird.”

3) Find common ground

Once your child has some understanding that some people are different, now is a great time to find some common ground: “I bet she likes a lot of the same toys/games/food that you like.” You can then ask the child or the child’s caregiver what they like to do. Establishing sameness is KEY. This is when the light goes on and children realize, “Oh, she’s just another kid, like me. We are more alike than different!”

4) Emphasize strengths

I try to emphasize that my daughter has strengths and abilities, too. Yes, there are some things she can’t do, like walk, but, “Wow, she can drive a wheelchair!” Or “Guess what? She can write with her feet!” It’s super important for kids to understand that everyone has something they’re good at.

You may not navigate this interaction perfectly, you might fumble for words or be at a loss, but most people will appreciate your effort and help you in the process. I’ve gone into many, many classrooms to teach children about disability — about my daughter — and I have seen their curiosity and hesitancy turn to acceptance and inclusion in a matter of minutes simply because we took the time to talk about it. In my experience, education doesn’t just make a difference, it makes ALL the difference when it comes to teaching our children about disability and fostering a community of inclusion.


Amy Webb

When Charley Met Emma book

Amy Webb writes the blog This Little Miggy Stayed Home about her family of five in Ohio. Her wonderful new children’s book, When Charley Met Emma, about a little boy who meets a girl with limb differences, came out this month.

P.S. How to talk to kids about sex, and 16 children’s books that foster acceptance.

(Bottom family photo by Momoko Fritz.)

  1. agnes says...

    Thank you so much for this post. “Charley met Emma” looks like a really good book. You look like a great family!

  2. Jenny P says...

    Should have written pity and empathy. Opps.

  3. Jenny P says...

    Such a great distinction between empathy and sympathy. Thank you.

  4. Annie says...

    My very favorite article ever on Cup of Jo, one of the few things I can remember reading that really and profoundly changed my perspective. Beautifully written as well. Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Val says...

    “The line between pity and empathy is razor thin. My general rule to differentiate between the two is that empathy stems from listening to another person’s perspective and reacting accordingly. Pity, however, assumes. Assuming that a person with a disability automatically has a harder, sadder life because of their disability. ”

    This post is brilliant. Especially the part about the thin line between pity and empathy. I think this is spot on and really applies to how we should treat everyone. Thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your daughter’s life and for great tips on how to be more inclusive.

  6. Sally says...

    I’m a school teacher, and primarily work with the little ones, like, aged 4-7.

    A couple of years ago, I had a little boy, B, join my class with cerebral palsy, who had only JUST learnt to walk, right before starting school. His parents were keen for him to be part of the mainstream class, and attempt everything his peers did, so we just threw him in the mix with the rest of them.
    He would fall down a lot, but his classmates would scoop him up, and wait for him at the back of the line. And because our school was rural (I’m talking little Victorian era school, in the middle of an English village), different parts of the school were down the street, so we were often a crocodile line of children and staff, walking around the village. He’d get tired, and fall down even more, so I’d often carry him. The other children were so great, “B’s getting a ride! Lucky!” When we went to Forest School, the rest of the class would walk, but two “lucky” kids would get a ride in my assistant’s car, of which B was always one of the lucky two. ;)

    But one day, after a month of near-daily running a lap around our school field… B had always done a half lap, and still always came last… But one day, he just took off, with the rest of the kids, who quickly zoomed away from him, but he kept plowing on round the lap… The rest of the kids arrived back and stood, in silence, watching B plod round. Then, as B crossed the line, they erupted into genuinely applause and cheers. His little face was a picture of utter joy. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my teaching career.
    Whenever I think about giving up at anything, I ask myself “what would B do?” and I carry on.

    • Megan says...

      Oh my goodness, what a beautiful story. Made me tear up.

      My goddaughter has had cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. For her seventh birthday we invited her whole class to a movie at the movie theatre. All the kids were sitting in their seats but the only spot for a wheelchair was at the very front. We wheeled her little chair in and parked it all alone at the front and you could tell M was devastated to be alone and apart from her friends but before I could even turn around every single one of her classmates has gotten out of their chairs and headed down to sit on the floor surrounding her. She looked like a little queen in her throne surrounded by all her friends and I will never forget the look on her face as long as I live. Pure joy.

  7. Jen says...

    Thank you so much for this post – useful, funny and lovely to hear what an awesome girl your daughter is!

  8. Lisa says...

    She’s Beautiful.With best kind of Mummy ♥️:) x

  9. Martha says...

    As a special education teacher, this post is so helpful. Thank you for sharing, Amy. Your daughter is beautiful, and it sounds like she is gift to everyone who has the privilege of knowing her.

  10. Martina says...

    Thank you! This is such an empowering story. As an educator, I always encourage my kiddos to see the world not as weird but as interesting. My favorite thing to say is, “wow! Aren’t we lucky to live in a world with so many different ways to have a body?”

  11. Clara says...

    This is why I keep clicking on to Cup of Jo. Every post is full of love. I’m sure it’s contagious

  12. Cara says...

    This is wonderful.

  13. carla morris says...

    Thank you for these words, the suggestions and language you’ve shared to help us to “know and do better.” It really is helpful having a parent’s perspective on how to navigate a situation where a child might first engaged with not-ideal wording – now I feel like I have some ability to turn the opportunity into one of empathy and understanding. Great family photo, too!

  14. Mara says...

    I loved this! Thank you so much, Amy. And your daughter is beyond words beautiful with a smile that would light up a room!

  15. D says...

    Thank you, Ms Webb, for this wonderfully written article. My son has autism but it’s rarely noticeable so I’m jot often asked about it, nor are we pointed at. However, I do find myself at a loss sometimes how to explain it to other children we know who are curious as to why he speaks or acts differently than other kids at time. I’ve yet to find the the best way to describe it other than “his brain just works differently than yours and he’s more sensitive to certain things that you might not notice at all.” Which is sufficient but I know I could explain it better, I just know it. (Any suggestions, you wise and clever mom? Ha)

    And I appreciate your guide, not only because my children are often curious about kids who look different than them and I want to foster open questions and try to instill a sense of “we are equal to one another, though different” in them and the best way to do that, it seems, is to interact with the child! Which I would absolutely encourage! I’ve just feared that the other parent might not want any questions or an attempt to get to know them – I worry they think it’s a pity ‘hello’ or something.

    So thank you for giving us a bit of a road map moving forward. Any way to destigmatize anyone or anything out of the norm is a step in the right direction.

    Now I’m off to follow your blog!

  16. Brooke says...

    such an insightful, helpful read. Thank you. Your daughter sounds like a pretty awesome kid with an amazing mom.

  17. I really appreciate your insight on this. I think even as adults we struggle with how to interact with those with disabilities in certain situations. There are many ways we can all do better. Starting with children is a good place to begin.

  18. Ellen says...

    yep! As an adult who has had a very obvious limb difference all her life, I second this. Its not just kids interacting with kids either, if your kid is pointing at me or asking questions, I hope you will make eye contact with me – maybe an eyebrow raise to see if I have the time to talk – I will give you a nod because I know exactly what is going on — and then let encourage your kid to say hi. I love when parents say “we talk TO people, not about them” and then say “hi, my kid was just asking about you…”

  19. Kit says...

    The BEST post ever. Thank you for this.

  20. Jen says...

    Thank you for the wonderful post! Even as an adult I find it difficult sometimes to navigate how to teach my littles how to celebrate the differences in people. This was so helpful! I’ll be using these helpful tips with my daughters.

  21. Amy says...

    Love, love, love this. Thank you!

  22. Allison says...

    Thank you for this post!

  23. Heather says...

    Thank you Amy for sharing your family’s story and such useful and thoughtful advice. I am an education assistant that supports kids with different abilities in a classroom setting and I would LOVE to have your book for our classroom! Looking into ordering it right now.

    Kudos to Amy for writing a great article and the COJ team for hitting it out of the park with inclusive content (again!).

    Lots of love and hugs!

  24. Jamie Bastian says...

    What a special little girl and family. I love this article. Thanks for sharing ❤️

  25. Mary P says...

    This article was so beautiful. What love that mother exudes! My 3rd baby was born at 24 weeks old. She is now one and doing so well. She was in the hospital for over four months and has special needs as far as therapies to get caught up. Although she should go on to livd a very normal life, I feel such a special bond with other parents who have struggled with their children’s medical needs.

  26. Kirsten says...

    Lovely. Thank you!

  27. Alex says...

    Yay. Just yay.

  28. Heather says...

    What a hysterical/wonderful/informative post – I’m always looking for ways to preempt these questions and situations with my four year old and books are always such a great way to introduce the subject. I’ve added this one to our cart! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Heather says...

      Also – along the general idea of kindness and how we treat each other – we’ve really loved the book ‘Be Kind’. The narrator is thinking about how someone that was made fun of feels and considers how they could help – the specific examples have really been great for our girls.

  29. Kathy says...

    Thank you for the great suggestions!

    Side note- when your daughter is a bit older (pre-teen), she might enjoy Shannon Hale’s book, Dangerous. The main character has a similar disability and is a truly awesome heroine.

  30. Myra says...

    This is so so helpful! Thank you! 🙏

  31. Rana says...

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights! I will keep this in my heart and share with my 8 and 5 year old sons. Your daughter is gorgeous and her smile in the playground photo says it all. XOXO

  32. Anna says...

    Beautiful post! Warmed my heart.

  33. Cait says...

    I can’t believe this is the post today, because on our way to the park today, we walked behind a woman with a prosthetic leg. My kids asked increasingly loud questions, despite my quick, quiet answers, so finally we had to stop, pull the stroller over, and have more of a chat. I always tell my kids (about when they see homeless people sleeping in subway stations, or a person in a wheelchair, or someone with dwarfism) that they can ask me any question they want, but not to talk about people in front of them. This is still hard when they’re younger before they’ve really learned it yet. If it was another kid, I would encourage them to make friends or even walk them over to talk, but it’s usually adults they’re seeing or asking about and it doesn’t seem as applicable to ask them questions directly. I think this book would really help our preemptive conversations. And I so appreciate the distinction between empathy and pity – I’m going to remember that one.

  34. Jen says...

    Love this! Thank you for sharing and for being so kind. It would be so easy to get frustrated with people’s less-than-ideal reactions to meeting your daughter, and instead you are understanding and kind that parents may not know how to act. We could all learn something from your patience. Thank you!

  35. Brianna says...

    Thank-you for sharing this Joanna!

  36. L says...

    Team CupofJo, thank you for this wonderful post. As the mother of a toddler recently diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that will result in health complications and a very short stature, this came at a perfect time for me. I want to get better at managing conversations, though I’ve noticed already that questions from kids about my daughter’s body are much easier to manage than rude comments from adults (“But she’s so scrawny!”). And the comment section has given me even more questions about wanting to know more from the perspective from adults with disabilities–what did they wish their moms did? And Jo, as a special needs mom, how do you balance the needs of your special needs child with your healthy child? All to say: more more more please!

    • Heather says...

      L, have you seen the Special Needs Spotlight on Amy’s blog? She’s interviewed hundreds of families of kids with special needs, some of whom address your question about balancing children with different needs. I’ve learned so much from the series! https://thislittlemiggy.com/special-needs-spotlight/

  37. Megan says...

    One of the things I love most about your blog is the constant surprise element. This post surprised me in the best way. The world is so big and so full of lives we rarely consider or have never imagined. Thank you for the window. You made my world bigger today.

    • H says...

      Yes! Exactly this. :)

  38. Kate Hayner says...

    I love this. As a parent of a 34 year old autistic person, the hardest part has always been how others look at us. You are much kinder than me, I tend to stop what I’m doing and make a snarky comment but that’s how I’ve always been. The other day someone said to me that God only gave disabled children to special families. I looked right at her and said “how does it feel to not be special?” and I walked away. My son has always been upfront with my granddaughter about his sister and she just accepts her aunt’s quirks.

    • Kate–Ha! I love your response. And I’ve definitely had my “I don’t want to be the educator for all the kids out there” days.

  39. Jamie says...

    My son has hemophila. A number of years ago, when he was starting kindergarten and getting a little more interested about how bodies work and why he had hemophilia (and to be honest, more self-conscious about it), I tried to figure out an age appropriate way to teach him about genetics. When a body is being developed, I told him, the “guys” building the body get a set of instructions from both the parents. Sometimes there is a sentence missing. Sometimes a page. His hemophilia was because the instructions were missing how to make his missing protein, Factor 8. When my sister got a rare and non-heredity cancer, the “guys” accidentally dropped the instructions and switched pages 11 and 22. When a boy is his daycare was born without his arm, that was just the instructions he got. Same with the kid with diabetes, the kid with autism, even the kid with two different colored eyes. This seems to satisfy my now almost 9 year old. When he sees someone with a difference, he doesn’t give it a second thought. They are just a body with different instructions.

    • Jamie, this is brilliant. Such a kid-appropriate way to explain something complex. Going to tuck this one in my back pocket for when my 5-year-old has questions!

    • D says...

      This is wonderful and so very clever. And I’m unabashedly stealing it. xo

    • Jamie says...

      This is brilliant. Will be stealing this for my own brood!!!

    • Meg Lewis says...

      I love this explanation 💜A wonderful, understandable and true way to explain everything.

    • cilla says...

      I love this. Thank you!

    • Verona says...

      This is a great way to explain how the body works! Thank you.

  40. Sylvia says...

    YES YES YES! ALL OF IT! YES!

  41. Kath says...

    Thank you for this article, i can honestly say that i learned something today. It challenged and broadened my perspective—it has me reevaluating so much.

  42. Dim says...

    I. Love. This. Thank you so much for this post Amy! Your family is divine and I keep thinking how lucky you all are to have each other. Thanks for teaching me (and consequently my two boys) how not to be total dicks around people with disabilities.

    • haha…. dying… glad I could help with the not being dicks thing.

  43. Sasha L says...

    “disability is just another way to exist… It just IS.” What powerful idea.

    Thank you. Going to share this book with my preschool children.

  44. I don’t have a child with a disability and I am embarrassed to say, I wouldn’t know how to navigate this convo simply because my kiddos and I have never come across this. I am so glad I read this post not only because I feel prepared, but because I always get excited about ways to teach equality to our little sponge-brained mini humans. :)

  45. Charlotte says...

    Oh thank you for posting this! It would be even greater to have the point of view of someone with disabilities :)

    • Yes! First hand perspectives are so important. May I suggest my friend Rebekah Taussig, instagram handle @sitting_pretty for some wonderfully, eye-opening, mind-expaning thoughts about disabiliy.

    • Carrie says...

      Agreed. I am an adult with a visible and invisible disability (deafblind), have a successful career, and have experienced other children and parents dealing with me in public on a regular basis. Appreciated this post. But I hope we can hear from the source on these topics down the road. People with disabilities are constantly being silenced, talked about, around, on behalf of, etc. We need to hear more from people with lived experience. We do exist and are quite capable at sharing what works best.

  46. Belen says...

    Great post! So sweet and helpful! 😍

  47. Bonnie says...

    Thank you for this post! I have a very curious and outspoken 3 year old and i was just wondering the other day what I might do in this situation. Very happy to have a guide that’s so simple and makes complete sense!

  48. Meghan says...

    Yes! As someone who became disabled in her 20s, trying to unlearn my preconceptions around ability has been so freaking hard.

    I wanted to share a couple of resources that have been really helpful for me (admittedly, they’re both a bit more adult-focused):

    https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/i-am-disabled-on-identity-first-versus-people-first-language/
    https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en

  49. rini says...

    Thank you for this post!

  50. Becky says...

    Thank you!

  51. Isabelle says...

    Dear Amy, points 3 and 4 are priceless!

  52. Cynthia says...

    Beautiful post!

  53. Justine says...

    Excellent content COJ. Amy, thank you for this insight.

    • Neha says...

      Absolutely!!

  54. Thank you for this post! So helpful for everyone, not just parents, but it is timely for me as the mother of a 3-year-old! Thank you for sharing, Amy!

  55. Cheryl says...

    Fantastic and much needed post! It does make me wonder if all parents would be as willing to be so open to sharing their child’s special need. I have to wonder if it gets tiring or frustrating to have to explain all day long to people about something so natural and normal to you. I guess it’s also natural for a child to have questions because that makes perfect sense to them-wondering what happened differently.
    My daughter wears an insulin pump and there are definitely questions which I’m happy to answer in the spirit of education but she gets a question once a week, not every day.
    Daniel Tigers Neighborhood has an episode which addresses this subject and a sweet song that basically says “in some ways we are different but in so many ways we are the same.”
    It’s an excellent tool to help your child make this connection. The beginning of this post regarding the doctors diagnosis of an asshole was absolutely fantastic.

    • Cami says...

      I can say as a parent to a child with visually obvious disabilities (wheelchair, tracheostomy and ventilator) that it absolutely does get tiring to answer these questions, but I would always rather engage and educate the curious child than skip the opportunity because I’m having a bad day. Thankfully, it’s not as often as you might think since he’s at school every day with kids who know him. I’ve had many wonderful interactions with kids and their parents through the years but my favorite was this:
      Little boy pointing at my son at the zoo: “Daddy, why is that kid in a wheelchair?”
      Dad, cheerfully and without missing a beat: “Because he just is!”
      I had to laugh at this exchange that so perfectly captured how I feel about my son being in a wheelchair. He just is! 😂

    • Cheryl,

      I would echo what Cami said. Over the years it has gotten tiring, BUT since my daughter is in school these days, the constant explanations are not as frequent. But yes, I’d prefer a teaching moment with a young child than just to skip it. Also, I have interviewed over 225 special needs families and individuals with disabilies over the years and always ask the question, “how do you want people to respond to your son/daughter/self in order to avoid awkward or hurtful situations?” And this is the question that is almost universally answered the same–Just ask. Don’t point, stare, shush, walk away… engage with us and if you have questions, just ask.

      But this is also why I wrote the book… I used to want to walk around in front of my daughter with a billboard telling people what to do/what not to do as that would be a much more effecient way to get the information to everyone. This book is my billboard. It’s my way of helping children understand that yes! you can actually be born without hands, BEFORE they meet my daughter or another person with a difference in the world and have their mind blown by this fact. And part of it is also the idea that OF COURSE kids don’t know any better and OF COURSE they are curious but also it’s no accident they don’t know any of this because images of disabled bodies are not something we see on our tv shows (thank you speechless!), movies, Disney shows, children’s book, etc. Lack of representation is a huge part of the issue. Anyway, just some extra thoughts!

  56. Emily says...

    This was a great post! Thank you! Your daughter is just precious and her smile is infectious.
    I’m an elementary teacher and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a teacher. Articles like this are important to everyone and people are so often confused and don’t know what to say. Cup of Jo, please consider doing a parenting series on parenting children with disabilities, anxiety, being bilingual, twins/triplets etc. I think it’d be interesting but provide really valuable perspective. Just an idea! Loved this article with beautiful writing.

  57. Kato says...

    Thank you for sharing this Amy; your family sounds lovely. However, as the sibling of a disabled sister I agree the looking/walking away can be bad BUT no one should feel obligated to always answer random questions from random strangers. As a child I was often asked by other children what was wrong with my sister, why did she look like that. Don’t push another young child in the position of explainer and sometimes defender. Also, probably meant well but horrible: parents who encourage their children to only ask the disabled child to play, while ignoring a sibling. May sound petty but as a child it is very hard to comprehend. And it only re enforces the being different

  58. Allyson says...

    This is just beautiful. A beautiful little girl and a beautiful mama and a beautiful way to approach our differences as an opportunity to make friends and be loving. Thank you for sharing.

  59. How did I not know about this book?! I CANNOT wait!

    I remember reading this essay on her blog last year and bookmarking it. Its helped us navigate all kinds of encounters in a kind and thoughtful way. Thank you for posting it here!

    • Jillian says...

      Same feeling here – how did I not know about this?! Bookmarking this title as my students will need it!

      Also, I recognized your name right away, Gaia. I shelved your book in my library this afternoon – as I do weekly. I have it on constant display and it is in constant rotation. ;)

    • T says...

      Gaia Cornwall! A celebrity in my house!!! This literally made my morning….. a lovely and helpful post with a comment from Gaia Cornwall in support of it. Doesn’t get much better than that.

  60. Rosy says...

    Very grateful for this post and love the beatiful and important distinction between empathy and pity. Thank you!

  61. love this helpful, touching, funny post.

  62. Katie says...

    Thank you so much for this!

  63. B says...

    Thank you so much for this. The gifts that people with disabilities have to share are many. We are all enriched by a world that is more inclusive of these differences, whether visible or invisible. These are such helpful tips and if there are other opportunities, I would love to hear even more from adults with disabilities, as well as parents of children with disabilities. COJ, you guys do such a wonderful job of amplifying diverse voices. Thank you!

  64. Jessica says...

    What I love even more about this piece (it’s so wonderful!) is that it can be applied to nearly every aspect of life. Limb differences, racial differences, sexual orientation, different expressions of gender, disabilities, social economic differences, etc. Deciding to “show up” for our fellow humans (stay) and be open to asking each other questions, reinforcing kindness, finding common ground, and emphasizing our strengths. Ah, what a world it would be if these were the main tenets of society!

    • Sasha L says...

      Such a good point Jessica. Completely agree.

  65. Laura says...

    Thank you for this post! As the older sister of a brother born without legs and an arm, I had a front seat to many playground interactions. As a kid, my brother usually answered most questions with a variation of “shark attack!” or “I met a t-rex. Didn’t go so well.” He (or my mom) would quickly clarify that he was actually just born this way. That was that. Playtime as usual. My brother always, always preferred that kids asked him rather than stay away from him. I have kids now and understand the feeling of wondering what’s appropriate for my child to ask. But for the children that were encouraged to go up and talk with him, they met a funny boy who did all the same things they did in a way that maybe looked a bit different.

    • Amy says...

      “Shark attack” and “I met a TRex”. What a funny guy!

    • Cynthia says...

      What a sense of humor!

  66. Elizabeth says...

    This is so well written and beautiful. I am starting my pediatric residency this summer and will keep this post in my back pocket for my patients, their parents, and myself. Thank you for sharing!

  67. Catharine says...

    Such a great post, thank you.

  68. Emma says...

    Great to read an article about disability that is so positive and on a blog that is so loved. 😍

  69. Christine says...

    Hi Amy,

    Thank you so much for writing this. I am 29 years old and I have a “birth defect” from my umbilical cord. It’s is essentially an indentation around my entire right bicep. I have lived a very normal life (I am left handed, as my right hand is slightly smaller than my left and has some motor issues) but the visual scar was very difficult to grow up with.

    I can speak from experience that your formula will make a huge difference in the confidence of children with visible disabilities and scars. I have many, many bad memories of encounters with both children and their parents. The active role you play in changing the mentality on this subject is wonderful to me. Your daughter is so lucky!

    I wore sleeveless for the first time since childhood at age 28. It was liberating but sadly scary. I am nowhere near the confidence level I want to be with it, but I am going to take this formula to explain MYSELF to people if they ask, instead of making a joke or changing the subject. So, thank you for making this formula that even a grown up can use to help curious kids and other grown ups understand how it’s okay to look a little bit different.

  70. Olivia says...

    Oh, I love this post so much. My cousin had very visible limb and movement differences, but growing up together, he was always *the most fun* one in the family, and everyone always wanted to be around J. I was so lucky to grow up with that just being a part of life.

    But this post helped me realize I didn’t have a clear game plan for my coaching my daughter through meeting someone with limb (or other) differences. I’m so grateful to have a practical template I feel good about. Thank you for sharing your experience so openly!

  71. Andrea says...

    This is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing and teaching us! <3

  72. Neela says...

    Thank you for this post! Pointers one and two come logically to me, but I probably wouldn’t have thought of three and four on the spot. Nice to have a mum’s perspective on what could be a sensitive matter for many.

  73. Jan says...

    You left out gorgeous girl with a beautiful smile!

  74. Bren says...

    This post was amazing and made me teary! As a mom I just so want to teach my kids to be loving and kind, and I’ve often wondered the best way to approach this situation when it arises. My biggest takeaway that I will always remember is “establishing sameness is key” because I think that’s true for all people and all walks of life – find the common ground! I love this and I will remember this next time we meet a friend that seems different from us. Also excited to read Amy’s new book!

  75. Leah says...

    I am saving this article and sharing it with my husband immediately. This is an excellent primer on how to teach our toddler about certain differences (and how to think about them ourselves). Thank you!!!

  76. Rose says...

    LOVE this post! So insightful and so important. Thank you for always generating thoughtful content ❤

  77. Marlena says...

    Thank you for sharing. A phrase we learned and use in our family is “everybody is the right size” – this applies to size, levels of mobility, you name it. Stating that we are an ideal, packaged in different wrappers.

  78. Oh I do relate to the difference between empathy and pity. My two boys are visually impaired, and I have seen kids come up and say “why do their eyes look like that” which is a question I didn’t mind at all. Kids tend to be straightforward in their questions and really listen to the answer. The comment that actually caused me to raise my voice was a woman saying to my son “oh poor baby.” I told her that he was neither poor nor unfortunate, which is what she really meant, and left her with her jaw on the floor. Do not pity my kids, they are SPECTACULAR.

    • Jackie says...

      Hell yeah, Ashley!!! Bravo!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much! i’d love to read this, of course. amy uses both “disabled” and “special needs” on her site. i’m also a mother of a child with special needs, and the term “special needs” is what our family uses (and is used regularly by the community/schools/therapists we’re in) — I wonder if it’s a regional difference? very happy to learn and read more, always, and update the term if it’s outdated. i really appreciate your sharing this. thank you so much, joannaxo

    • Lauren says...

      Hm, and I always understood ‘disabled’ to be offensive to many and ‘differently abled’ to be the more correct term.

    • Olsa says...

      My sense is that it might more frequently used among parents of disabled people then disabled people themselves. I can only speak for this disabled person, but its definitely my sense that for the most part disabled adults don’t enjoy hearing “special needs”. The article I linked talks about use in school as well…
      And here is one particularly for parents of disabled folks- https://adayinourshoes.com/disabled-instead-of-special-needs/

      Of course it’s a learning process.. Even as a disabled person, it took me a while to educate myself!

      There are a ton of amazing disabled writers on the internet! I had never read either of these two before just now- I just quickly google searched for a good example..
      I’d really recommend reading content from adult disabled people!

    • Kate says...

      I was also advised by a mother of a daughter with autism to say “typically developing” instead of “normal”and that language completely helped re-frame how I think about and describe people! Just because a kid learns in a different way from another kid doesn’t mean they’re not both normal :) I’d love to know if other parents/educators use this term, as well?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      @kate oh yes! great point. i totally agree with that — i frequently use the word “neurotypical,” instead of “normal.”

    • Emma says...

      In response to Joanna below. I obviously can’t speak for many/most people feel but I do know that – where I am based – special needs is definitely considered an outdated term and would not be used by any official care/therapy provider. On the basis that people with disabilities (of any type) have the same needs as everybody else and ‘special needs’ suggests otherwise. I do sometimes hear parents use ‘additional needs’ (ie. My kid has the same needs as every other kid, plus a few extra) but it would never be used in an ‘official’ context.

    • Emma says...

      Just to add: I think the ‘adayinourshoes’ link that Olsa provided in her reply sums the issue up brilliantly (I hadn’t seen it before I posted). Thanks Olsa!

    • Julia says...

      This is an interesting perspective. As a parent of a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome, I often use ‘special needs’ as people find it less intimidating, but I get annoyed (for lack of a better term) because the assumption is autism, ADHD, or other more common conditions. Disabled fits much better for a girl who has hearing, vision, and balance impairments paired with a complex medical history.

    • Sarah says...

      I appreciate expecting to be called by your preferred terms–but I hope we also don’t let that issue divide us unnecessarily.

      How much effort do you put into carefully aligning your language and views with those of the mechanics at the nearest garage? That’s about how compelling they mind find your college talk. It takes more to “educate people” than to just share new views with them: liberalization usually happens in community, specifically college community, which not everyone has experience with. I see classism at work here.

      I hope we can keep the peace with ‘ignorant Uncle Jake’ if he’s a decent person–for our own sake, if nothing else: do we want to offend people who are different from us and make a person like Trump seem down-to-earth by comparison? I hope not!

    • anon says...

      Hmmm, I have to gently disagree. I believe it’s neither/nor. It really depends on the person and family. My child is autistic. She has a special need (academically, at school, socially, with friends, etc). She maybe technically disabled, if you’re saying there are neurological differences. But we don’t say disabled bc it is usually associated with physical disabilities. Because she can sometimes “pass as neurotypical” it becomes even that much more confusing when we tell people she’s autistic. Most don’t get it if we say “disabled”. So I would say it’s pure preference, and the best thing is to ask the person or the family what they use.

    • Carrie Jones says...

      My nephew has down syndrome and none of us mind “special needs”. My sister and her husband both use the term without batting an eye. He does, in fact, have special needs. It’s not derogatory it’s just a fact, and that’s totally okay.

    • Katie says...

      Firstly this article is great. Thank you!

      I am a disabled adult who physically cannot use my body like your average person. I cannot walk. I always assumed the word disabled meant your body was unable to do tasks that able bodied people can do. Physically not mentally. I think its very clear when someone is disabled.

      Versus Special needs which are not always visible or obvious at first glance. I have always thought special needs was used to reference people diagnoses that are to do with the motor neurons of the brain. Or even emotional etc?

      Maybe I’m wrong about this.

    • Katie says...

      We have a special needs kiddo as well and, for our family and sweet son, that is the preferred term. On her blog Amy also uses differently abled which I love and I have a feeling we will use that more as he ages.

    • Lauren says...

      Katie, that’s how I understand the two terms, too. It probably varies by geography/demograhics and not just personal preferences ;)

    • Nina says...

      I am disabled since birth and I work with disabled artists for a living. Thank you so much for pointing this out. The aversion of many disabled adults to the term “special needs” comes from the experience that our needs are often framed as difficult and extra, when actually we have the same needs as anyone else (respect, a right to education, to work etc.) and just often have to deal with structures and environments that are created for a very narrow norm and make it difficult for those outside this norm to have those same needs addressed or fulfilled.
      We call ourselves ‘disabled’ because of what is called the social model of disability: Very often, it is not our bodies or minds who disable us (as the writer beautifully points out, we are just part of the variety of humanity), but the environment and society disables us by not taking bodies our minds like us into account. I understand that for someone who is not disabled themselves, these might be ‘divisive’ or minimal points, but it is very empowering for a disabled person to use terms and see disability framed in a way that does take into account that disability is not simply ‘something wrong’ with us, but also has to do with society’s way of framing difference.
      I highly recommend the Stella Young TED talk someone posted above (amazing woman!!), and I agree, I would love to see more content by/about disabled adults featured here – maybe a beauty uniform? or a disabled parent? There are so many options and a huge number of beautiful, successful, fierce disabled women are out there (If you need some names, hit me up).

  79. Elliesee says...

    Hi Amy! Love to see you here. I read Louise Penny and her concept of near ennemies and thought of you. Near Enemies”: a psychological framework in which two emotional states can look the same but are actually opposites. Near Enemies derives from a Buddhist teaching where a positive psychological state has a sort of, “evil twin”. One parades as the other, and is mistaken for the other, but one is healthy and the other is sick.

    Here are examples: Attachment can masquerade as Love; Pity as Compassion and Indifference as Equanimity.

    The second pair is Compassion and Pity: Compassion involves empathy. You see the stricken person as an equal. Pity doesn’t. If you pity someone you feel superior to him or her.

    • Thank you SO much Amy for sharing! And Elliesee, I greatly appreciate you sharing this concept of Near Enemies, it completely captivates me as I do coaching/healing work with clients.

      More on that topic here if people are interested here:

      The Near Enemies of Awakening by Jack Kornfield (who is a great spiritual teacher)

  80. Erin says...

    I love this: “My general rule to differentiate between the two is that empathy stems from listening to another person’s perspective and reacting accordingly. Pity, however, assumes. ” I also love, ” Establishing sameness is KEY.” This is so helpful. I will definitely try to apply these insights with my kids. And haha…an asshole diagnosis!

  81. Tessa says...

    Thank you so much. This will give me confidence when I go into these situations with my children!

    Also, the “Asshole diagnosis”. HILARIOUS!

  82. Thank you for this. With the best of intentions, it can be hard to know the right thing to do. Focus on what’s the same. Brilliant. More information like this would be wonderful.
    Please tell us as well about adults. I saw a woman recently who looked as if her face had melted. I didn’t know what to do. It was a busy farmer’s market and I had finished my shopping and was sitting on a bench, watching people. So I WAS looking at people. Most walked by, whatever. An elderly lady sat down by me and we talked for 20 minutes–but she started it. What about the woman with the unusual face? Should I have engaged her? On what grounds? When I see tourists who seem lost, I go up and ask what they’re looking for. This woman looked like a tourist, but not obviously lost (not turning a map around and around), though she walked by several times, as if searching. I talk to strangers all the time; I had several conversations just while buying my vegetables that morning. On the one hand, I don’t want her to feel that I’m approaching her because of her unusual face. On the other hand, I am horrified that I hesitated to ask if she was looking for something in part because of her disfiguration (and also because it wasn’t 100% clear). This is a small town and we do talk to strangers; it’s extremely safe.

    • Sarah says...

      I like your comment :) It’s nice if someone catches you looking at them to say something, whether their face looks different or not — it’s nice to ask if they’re looking for something, or to just comment on whatever’s going on around you, just to see if you click or not. But ya I remember one time I got nervous around someone with that elephantiasis and I ended up saying the most bland thing with maximum awkwardness and then just sliding away–but we can’t expect ourselves to be perfect! I think most of us are used to whatever personalized reactions we’re prone to getting from strangers (like “what does your tattoo mean?” or “ooooh red hair!” etc etc)

    • Missy says...

      It’s especially important with adults with disabilities (intellectual or physical) to feel socially included. I’d probably start by saying “Hi, those tomatoes look great huh?” Etc etc, just as you would to anyone else browsing the produce. ☺️

  83. jeannie says...

    This was an amazing post and I will be taking your tips to heart. Your description of what the diagnoses could be like was wonderful – and hilarious! Yes, an “asshole” diagnosis would be devastating! LOL Much love to you and your beautiful daughter/children.

  84. Fran says...

    Oh, this is such a wonderful post! I wonder if Amy could point to a good resource on helping older kids navigate encounters with special needs peers, or just people in general with special needs? My daughter is eleven and I have recently been blindsided by her anxiety about social interactions with people who are differently abled. She is a very kind girl, and would never do or say anything to hurt another person, but that’s part of the problem: she is terrified that she is going to hurt someone’s feelings without meaning to. Unfortunately that fear is kind of a vicious cycle, in that it prevents her from interacting with people with special needs in a way that would be good for everyone. I have borrowed books, talked to her about it, pointed out that she (and I) don’t have to have the perfect thing to say, it matters more that we make an effort to get to know people as themselves, all of which she knows in an academic way, but putting it into practice has proved more difficult, especially since middle schoolers are basket cases when it comes to anything involving social behavior. I know it would help if she knew more special needs kids in general–are there programs that can match kids up according to interests, or something like that? I really want to help work through this bias!

    • Fran,

      Hi! Thanks for your comment and question… I actually don’t know any resourse off the top of my head, I might have to sit and think about this one for a moment. One of the reasons I wrote the book was so that parents and kids could see someone like my daughter in their own home, in a book first, and then have that discussion at home. I think part of your daughter’s anxiety comes from the fact that we don’t have very much representation around disability in the media–it’s very foreign to see a person with a disability on a tv show, or in a children’s book so when they see someone like that for the first time in real life, we have no idea what to do! Maybe watching a TV show like Speechless could help, or even watching “Special Books by Special Kids” ( Youtube channel) where we see him interviewing people with disabilities and how he interacts with them. Those are my suggestions off the top of my head!

  85. Stephanie says...

    ” there is a big difference between listening to a person’s frustrations and then empathizing, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re having a bad hair day — that sucks!” vs. ASSUMING you know someone’s feelings and then commenting or teaching other people how to make those assumptions — “Wow, your hair looks awful today, you must really feel self conscious. You are so brave for going out in public like that.””

    I love the analogy to a bad hair day for empathy vs pity. So simple, concise and clear! I feel like I’ve struggled to articulate that concept, and even process it for myself, and this was a huge help!

  86. Anita says...

    Our son with special needs is 22 now, and I wish others had this information/guide many years ago. Thumbs up for passing along goodness and clearing up confusion in an area many people find challenging to manage.

  87. Jackie says...

    Thank you for this post. As a mom of a kiddo with special needs I greatly appreciate it. These are great! My son just wants to be treated the same as everyone else. Inclusion is so important.

  88. Meg says...

    Amy, you’ve taught me so much with your post. Thank you for your kindness towards those of us trying to raise young children into caring and compassionate people.

  89. Rebecca says...

    Love this. Thank you for sharing!

  90. Chelsea says...

    Thank you, Amy! These tips are so helpful. What an incredible daughter you have!

    • Mary P says...

      This article was so beautiful. What love that mother exudes! My 3rd baby was born at 24 weeks old. She is now one and doing so well. She was in the hospital for over four months and has special needs as far as therapies to get caught up. Although she should go on to livd a very normal life, I feel such a special bond with other parents who have struggled with their children’s medical needs.

  91. Blanche Gonzalez says...

    This is an excellent teaching moment for ME and my kid. I made mental notes on how to navigate future situations thoughtfully. Buying the book for her now!

  92. Annie says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this article. Really helpful for me!

  93. Mary Beth says...

    In so many ways and at so many times, this blog is teaching people how to be decent human beings!

    I cannot tell you how much, at 70 years old, I appreciate it.

    • Katrin says...

      So true! I‘ve learned so much through this blog and feel so grateful for it. Thank you, Amy, for this article – while I did answer questions by my kids about disabled adults whom we saw on the street and disability in our families, and emphasized that everyone is different and disabilities are just one of the things that can happen in life, we haven‘t met any children who had visible disabilities yet, I think – or at least, I can‘t remember. It‘s good to have this valuable insight to come back to when the situation arises so I know I can handle it well. Thank you so much for sharing, and all the best to you and your family!

  94. sarah says...

    I learned so much here and am so grateful to Amy and her family for sharing. The idea of finding more things we share in common with each other is especially helpful. Your daughter is lovely, Amy. Looking forward to enjoying your book.

  95. Elli says...

    I loved this so much. Thank you for sharing your beautiful family with us, and giving us concrete tools to help educate ourselves and our children.

  96. Linds says...

    Thank you so much for talking about access and disability on your blog! As someone who has a degree in disability studies, and has long worked in the field of direct support and advocacy and now employed in disability services/accessibility area of a Canadian university, this is inspiring.

    I tell a lot of the students I work with (and ones I’ve met in the community) that we are more disabled by the society we live in (such as the built environment and peoples thoughts/attitudes/spoken words) than we are by our bodies and the challenges we were born with. If we were only so open to recognize this… the world would be a better place. A first great step for some is reading this post on your blog. So thank you! :)

    • Kate says...

      This makes me think about the Drunk History episode about the sit-ins for Disability Rights! All of the actors in the episode are disabled and it was so incredibly informative! And hilarious, of course. (Just looked it up, it’s season 5 episode 5) “We are more disabled by the society we live in (such as the built environment and peoples thoughts/attitudes/spoken words) than we are by our bodies and the challenges we were born with.” Such an important line.

    • YES! Absolutely. My daughter’s biggest obsticles are societies view of disabilty (“poor thing” and “she’s going to have a hard life” were two comments I got before she was even born). Have you ever read about Martha’s Vineyard in the 1800’s as a haven for the deaf community? Perfect example of an inclusive community where deafness wasn’t considered a disability because virtually everyone was fluent in sign.

  97. Em says...

    Thank you, so much, for this.

  98. Lghelly says...

    Wonderfully written. What a kind world this would be if ALL interactions were handled this way. Thank you for a beautiful post and sharing about your experience.

  99. jennifer says...

    Great post! I really appreciate Amy’s honest advice as well as her terrific sense of humor and writing. I will be using these tips in navigating these situations. Also, my 8 yr old son has Aspergers, so it helps to hear how to be on the other end of this when he behaves in non-typical ways and other kids are watching.

  100. Alex says...

    This is great advice! My older daughter is 3 and my husband and I recently started thinking about how to teach her about people who look different or have a different family structure or talk differently. I have been seeking advice on how to talk about all kinds of physical differences (skin color, size, physical disabilities (and the abilities that come with them, like writing with your feet!), etc.). This is very helpful. Thanks!

  101. Julie says...

    LOVE THIS!! So important. Thank you for sharing!

  102. Lux says...

    This is one of the best posts in a while. Thank you, Amy!

  103. Kimiko says...

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and important piece! I will definitely put in to practice all your wonderful advice.

  104. Natalie says...

    This is wonderful. I don’t have children, yet I found this insightful and educational for myself.

  105. SN says...

    I needed this today. Big time.

    I’m pregnant with our first child, and a week and half ago learned it is positive for a rare genetic condition … one that could very well mean a childhood, adolescence, or adulthood with physical disabilities or needing a wheelchair. It’s been a fog of emotions, meeting with specialists, therapists, googling and then wishing I hadn’t googled, all to try and understand what this means. Our hearts and minds are in a million places — but find comfort in reading or hearing about what other couples and families do when presented with news about their unborn child. And how their life ultimately unfolds.

    What I would do to fast-forward a few years and have a conversation with Drs about our ‘diagnosis’ focused not on the hurdles or toughness this kid might face, but instead it’s personality, unique strengths and the love I know it will be bringing to our lives.

    This post gave me so much. Thank you.

    • Andrea says...

      Wishing you courage and peace, SN! I know that many condition-specific parent groups exist to help people navigate a hard prenatal diagnosis. The lived reality can often help give greater clarity.

    • Nicole C. says...

      I have a beautiful three-year-old daughter with an extremely rare genetic condition, one we didn’t learn of until she was 16 months old. She developed normally until four months of age, at which point she stopped developing completely. She does not walk or talk and is g tube fed, but she is the happiest, sweetest, smartest, most loving and phenomenal being on the planet. I love everything about this post and if you, or anyone on Cup of Jo, would like to talk to someone about the beautiful realities of having a child with differences, I would be so happy to connect.

    • E says...

      I’m also pregnant with our first and while I can’t think of something deep and meaningful to say, just wanted to say, thanks for sharing!

    • Heather says...

      SN, I’m sorry – that’s so tough. If you’d like to read other families’ stories about learning that their children would have special needs and how their perspectives/experiences changed over time, I highly recommend the Special Needs Spotlight series on Amy’s blog: https://thislittlemiggy.com/special-needs-spotlight/
      The first question she asks in each interview is, “Take me back to the day you knew your child would have special needs. Do you remember how you felt? Can you compare those first thoughts and feelings with how you feel now?” Many of the parents have come a long, long way from those first days. You may find their answers comforting.

  106. Kira says...

    Hi,

    Longtime reader, first time commenter.

    I appreciate the gravity and delicacy of navigating reactions to your daughter.

    However, I want to address the implications of the “don’t walk away + questions are okay” tactic and the precedent it sets. Disabled adults are too often assigned the responsibility of educating abled people. It can feel like our bodies are just serving to provide “teachable moments” for others, or that this somehow is the price we have to pay for existing in public spaces.This is not only burdensome but can function to strip the disabled person of autonomy and privacy.

    Additionally, I think it’s important to look and listen to disabled people directly regarding respect and inclusion. Caretakers and parents are impacted, but if they themselves are not disabled, they their voices cannot represent a disabled perspective.

    • Emily says...

      I appreciate both the original post, and this comment. Perhaps we could get a similar post from someone who themselves has a disability. Could also be nice to feature disabled folks in week of outfits or beauty uniform posts : )

    • Julie says...

      Yes, thank you!! As a dwarf, this is exactly how I was feeling. Thank you for putting it so well into words.

    • Elise says...

      Yes, yes. It would be wonderful to see some outfit and beauty programs from lots’ of different women. What is “different”? I guess everyone is different and has different challenges. Having empathy and understanding is a lifelong quest for me. Thank you, Amy, for sharing your insights.

    • Kira,

      Thank you so much for commenting. I agree with everything you said. So I have interviewed over 225 special Needs families as well as disabled adults on my blog. It was when I started including disabled adults in my interviews that I REALLY stared to learn and understand about disability, vs my roles as a special needs mom. I encourage special needs moms to reach out to adults in the disability community to educate themselves on disability from a first person perspective. So yes, my perspective is a second hand one, but also one that I have come by through my experience and years of interviews and listening to disabled individuals first hand.

      Second, I totally agree with your concern about how this can make disabled adults feel like their bodies are public property. I have tried to be very specific in helping people understand that what is appropriate for young children (asking “what happened to her arm???”) is not appropriate for adults. From my perspective, and from many of the adults I’ve interviewed as well, letting young children ask their questions and educating them is encouraged because if we can educate them when they’re young they won’t be asking these questions as adults. But that’s also why I said in the post above that people don’t have the right to know everything about her body. They don’t. There are boundaries.

      I really appreciate you speaking up and sharing this perspective as a disabled woman and I would love to talk to continue this conversation with you.

    • Also! I didn’t mean to make it sound like “i’ve interviewed disabled adults so I can now speak for disabled people.” I don’t speak for anyone else and I don’t ever want to come off that way, but I do try to come by my thoughts and words from an educated perspective. That’s all I meant. AND I try to (but need to do this even more) encourage other special needs moms to listen to first hand perspectives.

    • Katrin says...

      Thank you for your perspective! I totally understand what you mean. The way I understood it is that if children ask the parent of a disabled child, in a friendly way – that‘s okay – but I would never conclude that as an adult, I could do the same. Would you agree with that differentiation between children and adults? Come to think of it, I wouldn‘t let my kids walk up to an adult stranger to ask about their disability (not that they would do that), but among children, on a playground, I would think it‘s different.

  107. Michèle says...

    What a great article – thank you to the writer and the CoJ team for educating me on this important topic.

  108. Kendra says...

    Thank you for this! It is is so timely as I just had a similar conversation with my 4 -year-old this weekend after she saw a child in a wheelchair and I was wondering what I could do to make any such future interactions with persons with disabilities better!

  109. Kira says...

    Thank you for writing, Amy! I’m so grateful to have this perspective. And Team Cup of Jo – you once again managed to share insight I subconsciously craved, but hadn’t been able to verbalize. Thank you!

  110. Anne says...

    Thank you so much for this post. Cup of Jo team, you always know exactly what your audience is looking for and who to help you deliver it to them. Putting Amy’s book in my shopping cart now.

  111. Lisa says...

    Such wonderful advice on parenting in general.

    • Isabelle says...

      Thanks for the link, Kayleigh, what a beautiful Instagram account! As a physical therapist working with kids, I’ll share that with the parents for sure.

  112. polly says...

    with my child, i’ve grown to realize it’s not my responsibility to “explain” my child to people. It is other people’s responsibility to be nice.

    • Sara says...

      I agree, just because someone has special needs it’s not their job to educate you.

    • Dorie says...

      And this is why I would be so hesitant to ask a child’s parent/caregiver to “tell us a little about your child.” Maybe they just don’t care to do so, and I’d feel forward asking.

  113. Missy says...

    Thank you so much for highlighting kids with special needs! My cousin has Down syndrome, and he is absolutely one of my favorite humans. He is hilarious and compassionate and wants nothing more than to be ‘part of.’
    We ALL need acceptance and friendship, and it’s often harder for people with disabilities to find this. The non profit Best Buddies is AWESOME for promoting social inclusion and awareness. They provide one to one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Let’s find the similarities, not the differences. ❤️

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s wonderful! thank you, missy.

  114. Susan says...

    I LOVE Amy’s blog and encourage all to read not only her thoughtful posts, but the interviews and profiles of parents of kids with disabilities or those with disabilities themselves. I’ve learned so much, and am always so impressed by each writer’s ability to express the depth and nuance of their lives so well. I save up to read her blog each Sunday because it’s my little treat of profondity before the week starts.

    • Christine says...

      Ditto – love Amy’s blog. Highlight individuals with all types of differences is something we can all benefit from!

  115. Melanie says...

    Thank you for this amazing post. I’m going to read this many, many times and practice saying your example sentences. Kids catch you off guard & I want to avoid excessive fumbling. I ordered the book!

  116. Thank you for this helpful and generous post. It means everything to have this perspective!

  117. Frances Eleanor says...

    Thank you Amy and thank you to Cup of Jo. I can’t wait to get the book for my grandchildren. Kindness, openness, and respect is something we cannot stress too much in today’s world. Amy, you have a beautiful family which is a reflection of your energies.

  118. Mandy Hoggard says...

    Yes! What a beautiful piece and important message.

    I was born missing my left hand below the elbow. As a child, I had no idea I had a “disability”. I saw my world as limitless, not limited, and simply learned to interact with my world in a way that felt natural to me. Pity never resonated with me – I was always confused when someone said they were sorry or made assumptions about “how hard it must be.” I was equally confused when people said I was amazing or that they could not do things the way I do. News flash: every person has different abilities, and we all adapt and learn to live and love in this beautiful world exactly the way we are.

    Yesterday I was at a community event and a mom approached me. Her 8-month old daughter was born with limb differences too, and was missing one hand and both of her feet. She wanted to share in solidarity and hear about my experiences. I love encounters like this, because it is a chance to share the bright hope for a full, happy life. I wish my adult self could go back 30 years and give my mom a big hug and say “Everything is going to be MORE than okay.” I view my limb difference as an essential part of my identity, and I would not change it.

    Kids are so genuinely curious, and I and never offended when a child wants to know “what happened to your arm”? I think this post is an excellent guide to responding.

    Thank you so much for featuring this content!

  119. Jenna says...

    Thank you for this!! My 3 year old is very curious and likes to point out when she sees different things in people – skin, hair, eclectic clothes, body differences, etc. I typically try to answer her questions, but when she starts loudly NEEDING TO KNOW ABOUT THEIR DIFFERENCES I tend to get embarrassed and quickly walk away (total fail on my part). I am thankful for the suggestion to ask questions, I don’t know about each individual’s life.. what a community booster to get to know the people I go to the park, grocery store, etc. with!!

    Also thankfully, my daughter has suddenly taken it upon herself to talk to everyone she comes in contact with and ask them questions herself.. It’s been beautiful and confidence building in me to follow her lead!

    P.S. My daughter’s current major “difference” thing that she can’t let go is why some people get to use the scooter carts at the grocery store and she can’t! The worst was when we ran into her grandma at the store and SHE was using one! GRANDMA GOT TO USE THE SCOOTER AND SHE DIDN’T! Haha, we’ve had some great convos with people on scooters!

  120. Courtney says...

    Yes, yes, yes. All of this. Your distinction between pity and empathy, listening vs. assuming, is something I will carry with me to inform my own interactions as well as work to teach my young children (1 and 3) about how to be better humans in the world. Looking forward to following your blog, too!

  121. Valerie says...

    I am a long time reader who loves many, if not all, of Cup of Jo posts, but this was the first one to move me to tears. This is such important information, so beautifully and clearly written with love. We can use all of these suggestions in many situations. Thank you.

  122. J says...

    This is beautiful and so well said, particularly the critical difference between empathy and pity. My seven month old was recently diagnosed with congenital hearing loss. I find the response that feels best is when friends ask, “So how are you feeling about it?” and then react to whatever we say, which can vary from just fine! to grateful we have insurance to angry as hell that we had to cart her way uptown to her audiologist yet again.

    And, she has sparkly pink hearing aids that we talk about as her super power, inspired by this amazing guy: https://twitter.com/chellamanart/status/1108058883313016832

  123. Dee says...

    This is a really really wonderful post. Thank you so much. As a Mum of two little girls who always want to be kind but are also super curious (and vocal!!) I wouldn’t have known how to navigate them meeting your daughter. This post has given me the space to think about how I would deal with such an encounter, as well as some great tips. Also your daughter has very lovely hair. Straight haired babies over here and we are so jealous!

  124. Ruth says...

    This is so wonderful and helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  125. Lauren says...

    This speaks to my heart completely. My sweet boy is 14 mos old and has an undiagnosed genetic condition. This is new ground for us but I feel in my heart he is ours for a reason and hearing Amy’s words is exactly what I needed 💕

    • Steph says...

      Lauren, my daughter also has an undiagnosed genetic condition. Her condition is rare and we have been waiting nearly 2 years for answers. She will be 3 next month. She is the most incredible little being and we are so lucky to have her. It is hard planning for the future when you don’t have needed answers today. I’m sending you all of the good vibes and best wishes.

    • Nicole C. says...

      My little girl didn’t receive her rare genetic diagnosis until she was 16 months old. If you’d ever like to speak with someone regarding your journey, I would be so happy to connect with you. It’s incredibly difficult to navigate the complex emotions that accompany finding out your child has profound differences, but I have found such strength and solidarity in forming relationships with others who understand our situation.

    • Nicole C. says...

      Our little girl was 16 months old when she received her rare genetic diagnosis. It’s been a wild but wonderful ride. Sending you strength and love.

    • Laura C. says...

      Amy, I am a mom of a child with disabilities too. Mine has Asperger’s. Thank you and I truly appreciate this post very much. You and your child sound so amazing. Lots of love. 💕

    • Lauren says...

      Thank you Nicole and Steph 💕 gosh there is such good in this world.

  126. Kate says...

    My heart is about to explode! Thank you, Amy, for sharing your family with us and thank you Cup of Jo for always finding the world’s most beautiful people and for giving us a moment with them that enriches our lives.

    • Fiona lusby says...

      My little boy is 8 with an undiagnosed neuromuscular condition affecting his peripheral nerves. He can’t walk and has limited (and worsening) hand dexterity. The lack of diagnosis is hard, it would be great to have a community to share with and be understood by. I admire Amy so much, not only for her advocacy for her daughter but for helping others navigate potentially hurtful situations with people with disabilities. I usually find that other parents have the best of intentions and are often looking for a way to tell you that they see your child and see you. We were at a playground in Ireland with an amazingly long slide coming down from a rocket, my son so wanted to get to the top and slide down. We were working our way up, it was hard to navigate the many ladders. I heard a dad yell up at me, not the expected what the heck are you doing but instead “just wait a minute, i’m coming up” this is what I want.

  127. Amazing post. Getting this book for sure.

  128. Lisa says...

    Shared, thank you so much!

  129. Dakota says...

    Thank you so much for sharing Amy’s voice! I’ve been reading the Special Needs Spotlight on her blog for years and it is very affirming and illuminating.

  130. Lauren says...

    Love love love this post! “common ground” is such a good tip. Much love to your beautiful family

  131. I.love this!! I was thinking wow this sounds like Lamp! Love her and can’t wait to check.out her book:)

  132. Mandy says...

    What a wonderful post!! Thank you thank you thank you!

  133. Audrey says...

    Thank you so much for this! Such a lovely post and family. I have a toddler that is *so* curious about other children, so I’ll be sure to keep these in mind!

  134. April says...

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful formula, Amy. I will try my best to remember and follow them with my daughter if and when the occasion arises.

  135. Deanne says...

    This was a wonderful education for me as a parent. I love hearing the change in your perspective before and after your daughter is born. I plan to use your tips in the future. God bless the girls with a wicked sense of humor and a tender heart (I have one too).

  136. Wendy says...

    Thank you for this perspective and the practical advice.

    • Anne says...

      Yes, yes, and yes again! As the mother of a wonderful child with limb differences I cannot emphasize enough how spot-on this post is. My son astounds me every day with his ability to navigate this world (and its people) with ease and grace despite his disabilities. Reading this brings to mind my favorite Dr. Seuss line, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Thank you so much, Amy and CoJ- this brought happy tears to my eyes :)

  137. Amy says...

    SUCH an important post! I will keep this in my back pocket as I raise my little boy to hopefully navigate the world with kindness and grace.

  138. Cara says...

    This is such a beautiful post! I love everything you said about what the doctor should’ve told you and how pitying those with disabilities doesn’t help them much. “Nowadays I see disability with so much color, variance and possibility. Disability is just another way to exist in this world, and it is not inherently wrong, sad or undesirable. It just IS.” We don’t need to pity, fix, or isolate people living with disabilities—the best thing we can do is just make space. What a beautiful daughter and mother!

  139. Caitlin says...

    What a great post. So many different kinds of kids out there; some differences you can see, some you can’t. Love this so much.

  140. Naomi says...

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful perspective. I’ve often struggled with my children’s curious but sometimes rude questions when they see a person with a disability and your suggestions are greatly appreciated.

  141. Robin says...

    I never comment, but I truly can’t thank you enough for this post. I work at a camp with disabled children, and before that work I never knew how to navigate these interactions. I still don’t always know, to be honest. But this is so, so wonderful to get a mother’s perspective. I want this to be required reading for all humans <3

  142. Noelle says...

    This whole post is brilliant! Thank you for this, Amy! I can’t wait to read your book to my girls!

  143. Becky says...

    I love this. I will look for her book. I collect childrens picture books. My brother was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor whe we were kids. Its been more than 20 years and he has graduated college works and has a driver’s license. He was always a little different. Alot of energy assumed to be ADHD but also a creative comic. Sweetest kid. His classmates were tough on him. And as a kid that angered me. They didnt see the kid I lived with who wanted to make you smile and be your buddy. When kids cant see things and they know things are different its challenging for them to ask questions and understand and I guess for parents too. I was his defender on the bus and even into college when a staff member embarrassed him in front of a crowd, I went to that person and reemed them out. I think it’s important to teach kids that different is what makes the world go round. And that it doesnt have to be scary.

  144. Jen says...

    I’ve loved following this mama on instagram. Love this article so much!

  145. Brigid says...

    Wow. This was an incredibly insightful and helpful piece. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Amy. And thank you even more for these tips on how to navigate this with children. Even as a non-mother I found this to be really helpful and encouraging. Even adults don’t always get things right. Thanks for providing some clear and direct ways to engage with someone who may be, in some way, different from us. I will definitely be adding this book to my gift list for my young nieces and nephews.

  146. Steph says...

    Please more posts about children with special needs! I have shared on this blog before that I have a (very amazing!) daughter with a rare condition. I find it so isolating, and I often don’t share our story due to pity. I don’t want pity! I’m so lucky! I do want to know that there are other people going through the same things we go through though. I feel “normal” parents avoid parents of children with special needs as if disability or difference is contagious. It’s not! Please be more open and more kind to every parent you meet. Special needs or not we all go through so much and it would be nice to feel connected instead of alone.

  147. Trish says...

    Thank you so much for this post! As the mom of an awesome little dude with Down syndrome, all of these points accurately capture our experience as well. Silence can often lead to shame, and we prefer to talk openly about DS and answe any questions folks might have. Often the “pain” we experience from having a child with a disability comes from our interactions with the world, not the disability itself.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a great comment, trish. thank you.

    • Bets says...

      I love this post. I have struggled myself in these types of situations – sometimes my personal emotions get in the way (I was actually made an example of during my Make a Wish Foundation training, of what NOT to do), so these conversation starters are extra helpful. Thank you for posting!

    • Somer says...

      Totally agree with your comment! I have a daughter who is 7 with Ds as well and the negative feelings I have typically come from the lack of interaction. Not only is Ever desperate to have some connection with her peers, but we are too!

    • Jessica says...

      This post was really really needed and well written. Thank you Amy for all your wonderful ideas. I have a question – I try to do some of the points mentioned above when my 5 yr old daughter sees, say, someone in a wheelchair whose legs are disabled. But I find that she sometimes acts “scared” like clings to me. This happened once for example when we went to a fundraiser for a great organization “out on a limb” that raises money for artificial limbs for kids and to send them to camp. She saw a child with limb differences that had a wheelchair but decided to move along the floor to be able to play the carnival games better. How do I handle a situation where she is visibly scared? Reassuring her is good but sometimes the fear is on her face and what if the other child sees poor thing?

    • Karyn says...

      <3

    • Cara says...

      That is such an acute insight. I have a brother with Down Syndrome, and what breaks my mom’s heart the most is when he has to do things without a friend or when he doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get asked to things like high school dances. I think most people are too caught up in their own desperate struggle to stay in the circle—especially teenagers—to think about bringing others into the circle.