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I was in a looooong line at the post office when I spotted a friend I know a few people ahead of me. We exchanged pleasantries, but made no small talk- we went straight for the real stuff. We’re raising kids with disabilities, we ain’t got no time for small talk! In a matter of 4 minutes there in line, we covered our girls’ special ed teachers, inclusion, opportunities for socialization in school, and even summer camp options for next year!

 “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

In those four minutes, we mentioned a local organization that offers programming to families with disabilities. Once it was my friend’s turn to be helped, the lady in between us turned to me and asked, “do you both have children eligible for {organization’s name}?” I smiled and said, “yes, we both have daughters with disabilities.” “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, and she looked down. “That must be very hard for you.” “Yes,” I said, not really wanting to get into it. “I have five children. One of them had learning disabilities. It was difficult at times. She tried really hard. She’s a doctor now. Does your daughter try hard?” Oh, a chance to brag about my girl?! I can get into that! “She does! She tries very hard. Things don’t come easily to her, so she has always had to try very hard to achieve goals, but also to do the things that come very easily to her peers. My daughter has Autism.” “Oh. wow. I’m sorry to hear that. Learning disabilities must sound like nothing to you!” “Oh, I don’t know. It’s all relative, really. Everyone has some kind of struggle, don’t they?” I know it’s only natural to compare struggles, but I also know that we never really know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Version 2

“That must be very hard for you.”

“Yes. It is. Of course, there are are wonderful parts, too. Every achievement is a little sweeter because of the fight.”

Then It was her turn. She walked up to the counter, turned around, and said, “I wish for you the very best.” I thanked her. And then I waited my turn. I carried on and sent my packages.

I often run into situations like this where someone says something and I respond in some way and then hours later think, “D’oh! I should’ve said this or that”. The “sorry” thing is what makes me uncomfortable. Is it pity? Is it assuming that my whole life is hard? Is it assuming that my daughter is a hardship? Of course, I have since thought of a ton of things to say in response to “I’m so sorry your child has autism.”

How would you have responded to this woman in the post office?