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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

How to Respond to Unhelpful Comments: Top 10 Comeback Lines For Individuals With Special Needs

It happens sooner or later to just about everyone who lives with a disability: someone will say something nosy, rude or truly offensive.

It may help to have a response prepared for that day.  Having that comeback line at the tip of the tongue gives a little edge of confidence that actually prevents people from saying rude things in the first place.  Here are ten simple responses that work in real life situations.

See also 10 hurtful comments from relatives about your child with special needs

10. “Excuse me?”  Miss Manners says that this is always the most polite response.  It causes the person with the original comment to pause and re-think his words.  If he repeats the rude comment, simply repeat in a sweet voice, “Excuse me?”  Keep going with it until the light bulb switches on.

9. “I’m sorry that my (or my child’s) permanent disability has caused you a temporary inconvenience.”  One of my buddies uses this line, and it is a conversation-ender.

8. “Thank you for your concern.”  With a smile.

7. Silence.  With a smile.  And walk away.

6. “Why do you want to know?”  Sometimes it is necessary to answer a question with a question, especially when you are cornered by a personal question on a delicate topic.

5. ”Why would you say that?” Force them to think about what they just said.

4. “Nothing is wrong with her.  Is something wrong with you?”  Ask with genuine concern, without sarcasm.  Often the person is asking because of a family member with a similar condition.

3. “Yes, he can talk.  He can also hear and understand everything you say about him.” For just a little guilt trip.    

2. “I respectfully disagree.” 

1. “I have (or my child has) an equal right to be here.” This is the line I’ve been saving all these years – but I’ve never had to use it in any of the many, many awkward public situations I’ve found myself.  My belief in equal rights is what makes me stand taller.

What is your standard response to unhelpful comments or questions?  Please share in the comments below.

Karen Wang

Written on April 4, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
  • While at Sesame Place a few years ago with my 2 adult daughters, 4 grandkids and my adult daughter that has some disabilities, we were always taken to the front of the line. What a blessing for us, my daughter would have an awful time having to wait in long lines. An adult male was really upset and said something rude. One of my daughters said to him “Sir, I am sure my sister would rather not have any disabilities so she could have the patience and understanding to wait in line as you do”.

  • My son uses a wheelchair so his disability is more obvious. What personally drives me crazy is when well-meaning people say “I so sorry to hear that” when I tell them that my son has cerebral palsy. To me, the appropriate reply would be “How is he doing?”. This shows their concern for him, and not me thanks.

    • Kassi

      My son is blind and we often get similar responses like “that’s so sad” or “such a waste”. I know it’s well meaning but it makes me crazy especially in front of very intelligent but lazy 🙂 son.

      • Wendy Stone

        someone actually used the words “such a waste”?????? I’m not sure how well I would have handled that one. *hugs*

      • Kris

        Ask why they would say such an insensitive thing! And yes, I deal with a permanent disability every single day!

    • donald

      By saying “I am sorry to hear that” the speaker is expressing 1) they are sorry your son must deal with something so difficult, & 2) expressing their concern about his well being. You are being too defensive. Use this to open a dialog & educate & to help others dealing with handicaps. Besides, not all handicapps are visible; it is possible the speaker is dealing with disabilities of their own.

      • Cam

        Donald “why”… we are not the world’s teachers. I just want to move about and live my life without being constantly reminded that I am different. I am with [email protected]#$ u person. No one has a right to ask these questions. If you want to know something look it up online but I am not a dictionary or science teacher. It’s like when people in the 1940’s thought it was okay to ask black people if their color washed off or asian people if they could see? Seriously….people need to just mind their own business allow people who are different to just live without being side show entertainment.

  • My standard response to some of these sorts of lines? “F#*% you.” Why should WE always be the ones “raising awareness” and being gracious? Things are hard enough as it is without having to deal with a mini-meltdown from some stranger.

    • Cam

      My favorite response!

  • LOVE this—helpful and so realistic. I think I am going to commit an eco faux pas and print this out, so I have them handy!

  • mfrye7

    I love these. Thanks.

  • Lois

    I enrolled my son in a program when he was three years old. When a neighbor said to me “he’s young to be going out everyday”. My response:

  • doofus

    I had been misinformed about what to say to a person who had a nonstandard relationship with another person, and it was actually helpful for the person to ask me, “why would you ask that?” and explain why it was inappropriate. Not every person who says something wrong is malicious; sometimes people need to be educated. I’m still learning.

  • MJ Oksman

    As a parent of a child with special needs, over the years I did not always have the best comebacks. These help because I know when I get upset as I sometimes still do, the offender wins twice. Often times they just don’t know any better and sometimes are scared if they look at it, it might happen to them. Nothing hurts more than others lack of empathy. Our words can heal or hurt we must choose wisely.

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  • Casdok

    This works well…How would you feel if people were saying
    those things about your brother.

    I walk off before getting an answer. Hopefully giving them
    something to think about.

  • Alicia

    I combine several at once when someone really needs an additude check

  • wendy

    Recently a little girl asked her mother what was wrong with my son in a wheelchair as we went by. What happened to him? The mother tried to shush her daughter and inconspicuously walk away. I turned to the little girl and told her that he was born this way and can’t talk or walk, but he loves to make friends. That was enough for her and she smiled and said hi. Children are curious, but adults aren’t as nice

    • Kass

      Recently my 5 year old, was asking me about a kid who has a severe disability, he was trying his new motor-wheelchair, so my son was very curious, I took the time to explain my son; saying that we are all different and some of us are fat, some others short etc.. and that persons just can´t walk so they use wheelchairs to move around, i was discreet and respectful, we admire How cool his new chair was… Guess what… I got a horrible bunch of insults.. from the kids mom, …. That , I didn’t know how to explain to my son…. It is so difficult to know how to react adequately. So please don’t take it wrong, Ever since that experience what I do, we give smile and I told my son that we will speak about it later.

    • donald

      May be the mom had a previous encounter with someone who was not so pleasant, or did not want to intrude while you were out with your son. We cannot take everything that happens to us so personally al the time.

  • What a great post. Thank you!

    • Cam

      Yep what you said. Awesome post! I don’t have a special needs child but I am disabled. What I don’t get is why people feel it necessary to say anything except hello to another human being. After 6 years I am exhausted and feel like I have been running through a mindfield after being in public all day. My niece has spina bifida and she is 26 now, we compare rude remarks and stories all the time. I am amazed at the stupidity of people. I really can’t stand the people who say we are to sensitive and shouldn’t take it personal. Well I get what celebrities go through except I am not making millions of dollars and I didn’t choose this. If you had a big zit on your nose, would you want people to comment and stare everywhere you went. No you wouldn’t so I don’t get why people think it’s okay to stare at people who are different. I had braces on my legs as a child in the 60’s no one every mentioned it. I never felt different. I played like any other kid and was treated as such. Today it seems that people have no filter and no compassion. Thank all for this post. I needed some comebacks because today I wanted to punch the guy at Trader Joe’s . He has seen me a zillion times before. We have discussed mine condition yet today again he asks ” Whats wrong you are still twisted” I told him didn’t your mother ever tell if you can’t say something nice don’t say it at all.

  • Kerith Stull

    I hate to admit it, but when I get a really suprising/awkward comment, I tend to get flustered and/or very embarassed. Why should I blame myself about my special needs kid? I have no clue. She’s 17 years old and I should be used to it, but I’ not. Thanks for some good suggestions here!

  • IamBullyproofMusic

    My better half often inquires “…and your point is?” I love that one. I also use “Yah think?” in some situations. We have an entire song called “Scary Guy” wrapped around not bothering w/negative people. Oh, and another one called “Whatever” haha because you’ve gotta admit, whatever feels better than soaking in another person’s sloppy comment or attitude. This is a GREAT post. Pinning!

  • groovyK

    People often say to me “You don’t look sick” to which I reply “You don’t look ignorant”. Depending on the tone you use, this can come across as biting or gently cautionary.

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  • Karin

    When visiting with my visually impaired colleagues and friends, hosts often asks me if they would like a cup of tea etc. I normally answer, “I have no idea, would you like to ask them.”

  • Sol

    Bring a bible with you at all times, and when someone asks anything say “let me explain it to you by reading you a few chapters of the bible” That should do it ?


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