I can't remember where I read or heard this, but somebody somewhere was discussing what should be the proper response of nurses and doctors towards a parent who is just finding out that their new baby has Down Syndrome. I would have guessed the proper therapeutic response to this kind of parent would be to listen, be silent, maybe say I'm sorry, maybe ask if the new parents would like to talk about it, possibly offer resources such as support groups, etc. Those are the kinds of things I learned in nursing school ions ago.....
However, the responses I read from parents were quite opposite of that! These parents were sharing their memories of the moment they received the diagnosis. It seemed that the way the doctor presented this information made all the difference in how the parents were able to initially cope. "There is something wrong with your baby..." is not the proper way for a doctor to introduce this kind of diagnosis.
Here is, FYI, what to say and what not to say to a parent just finding out their child has Down Syndrome.
Do NOT say:
1. "I'm sorry", "What a shame", "How sad"
2. "It could be worse" or "At least your other children are normal"
3. "Does that run in your family?" (or anything else that implies blame on the parents)
4. "God has a purpose in everything" or "God gives special children to special parents"
5. "I could not handle that" or "You are a saint"
6. "People with Down Syndrome are such happy and loving people"
1. "Congratulations!" (Yes, congratulations, they are new parents after all)
2. "What a handsome boy", "He looks like you"
3. "I feel honored to know him"
4. "Tell me about Down Syndrome so I can learn about it"
5. "There will be hard times but there will be really joyful times too"
6. "She will teach us more than we will teach her"
I remember so many varying reactions to our announcement that we were adopting a child with Down Syndrome rubbed me the wrong way while some comments were very touching. Once John told his co-worker that we were adopting and showed him Ava's picture. After a bit of a silence, John announced, "I'm sure you can see she has special needs". And the guy smiled, and responded, "We all have special needs". I haven't forgotten that.
If you're parenting a special child, I'd love to hear how you received your child's diagnosis and what you remember about that first moment.