When you are out in public with your child, what do you expect from other people? How do you want other parents to explain your child to their kids? How do you want them to feel about you and your child? These are difficult questions to answer.
When discussing these questions with my friends (who are also parents of children with disabilities), my response is that much of it depends on how you feel in the situation. Some parents understand why questions are being asked and use it as a time to educate interested adults or children. Others feel offended—as if questions shouldn't be asked, and that under no circumstances would someone ever understand the pain, embarrassment, and despair they face as the parents of a child with a disability.
Most parents are somewhere in between, depending on their day. Some days you are just worn out and not able to deal with it while other days you enjoy the questions.
I would rather you ask a question, and give me the opportunity to talk and educate. My kids are kids, who also have a disability. The more others understand, the better it is for all of us.
As for what to tell a child, keep it on a level that they can understand. Kids can be surprisingly accepting. I have watched elementary school classmates of my daughter say to their parents, “Oh, that is Vivian, she uses a wheelchair because she can't walk. She doesn't talk either, but she is my friend."
If you approach the situation with honesty and openness, striking up a conversation with the other parent may be simple and eye opening. Some parents will be just as nervous about the conversation as you are. There are no set rules beyond: be nice; smile; treat others as you want to be treated; be patient with people because they don't always know the right words. You may make a new friend or get to educate one more person about our children.
Every time you help one person understand, it gives our kids one more person on their side. And there can never be too many people on our kids’ side.
And what if you see another parent with their child who seems to have a disability – should we approach them? I would say the general rule is if a parent has taken their child out into the community and are not actively correcting or trying to hustle their child out of the public eye, it is okay to bring up the subject that you also have a child with a disability. Ask them if their child goes to the same school or therapy center. It’s a great conversation starter.
For more parenting tips, go to Navigating Life - Parenting Children with Disabilities on this website.