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Parent shaming within the Special Needs Community

Jennifer Arnold by Jennifer Arnold Additional Needs

Jennifer Arnold

Jennifer Arnold

I’m passionate about raising awareness about disability issues through education and outreach. When I’m not wearing my writer hat, I’m usually tryi...

Parent shaming within the Special Needs Community

Parent shaming is nothing new.

I’ve been experiencing it on and offline since I became a mom almost seventeen years ago.

Somehow I was naïve enough to think the special needs community was immune to this type of behavior, but I was proven wrong within the first year of my daughter being born.

Not only do we get unsolicited advice and criticism from family, friends, and strangers- it can also come from within our own circles of special needs families, and it includes anything from passive-aggressive insults to straight-up rude comments.

Some of the arguments are the same ones that have been going on for years: cloth diapers or disposable; organic vs. nonorganic: bottle vs. breastfeeding...but many are specific to parenting children with special needs, and everything from sleep issues to tube feeding seems to be fair game.

My 14-year-old daughter has a feeding tube, and my 10-year-old son had one until he was almost three.

I’ve had people criticize the choice of supplemental nutrition my daughter receives and shame me for not doing a blended whole food diet.

We’ve tried the blended whole food diet, and it made her reflux even worse.

Behaviors are another thing that parents of children with special needs often get judged and criticized over. When people see a child having a meltdown, I’ve heard comments like:

Maybe if you fed them the XYZ diet

Perhaps if they didn’t have so much screen time

Maybe they shouldn’t take them out if they’re going to act like that.

And people wonder why parents of special needs kids tend to isolate.

It’s bad enough that we have to hear this stuff from random people, but it really cuts to the core when it’s from one of our own.

Most children with special needs receive some type of therapy, whether it be speech, occupational, physical, or behavioral therapy.

Behavioral therapy has always been a contentious issue.

People seem to either love ABA therapy or hate it and label it as abuse. Full disclaimer- my daughter has been through ABA therapy, and while it didn’t help her as much as I’ve heard about it helping others, it wasn’t a terrible experience for us.

But we’re only one case, and everyone is different, so if someone tells me they had an awful experience, I’ll believe them because, like all therapies- it’s not for everyone.

There are also assumptions made that if you’re not spending thousands of dollars on private therapies, then you’re not doing right by your child.

If someone can afford to spend that kind of money- more power to them.

My son’s respiratory issues (he has chronic lung disease) have also come under fire.

Maybe if you didn’t keep vaccinating him (no, I’m not joking- this was actually said to me online)

Maybe if you had breastfed or pumped longer

Perhaps if he weren’t on so many medications

The problem with these criticisms and judgment within the special needs community is that it creates a toxic environment among families that need more support than most.

Our lives are challenging enough without being afraid of judgment from people in our own circles.

In the world of special needs parenting, I’ve come to realize that there is no “right way or wrong way” when it comes to many aspects of our life.

When you feel the need to criticize someone on their parenting choice, try to remember that that person may be in survival mode and just trying to make it through another day.


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