5 Ways to Deal When You Don’t Want to Talk About Your Loved One’s Disability

I recently attended a networking dinner during which one guest asked another to share a bit about her previous career in education.

“I’m done with that part of my life; I don’t talk about it anymore,” the woman said without a moment’s hesitation.


While initially her bluntness seemed fairly rude, later, I found myself admiring it. Here’s why: On many occasions I’ve looked forward to a fun evening out only to have it quickly derailed by a barrage of questions about my son who is on the autism spectrum and what we were doing to help him educationally and socially.

Sometimes something as simple as, “Can he shower independently?” or “Does he call you ‘Mommy and Daddy’ yet?” — though innocent enough — can keep me up until 4 a.m. feeling worse than if I’d polished off an entire blueberry pie.  It’s not that I don’t have plenty to say, but we all need a well-deserved break from those conversations. While I’m happy to share information about anything that’s worked for us, there are times when I don’t want to spend two hours discussing how to get kids try new foods.

If you’ve ever found yourself mired in endless discussions about the merits of speech therapy or strategies for preparing for IEP season, you may have gone home wondering how you could have dodged these topics.

Here are five strategies that have worked for me. While not always easy, with practice, they’ll become more natural and you’ll find your way out of conversations you don’t feel like having:

  1. Be Honest

You’re well within your rights to say, “You know I love talking about (insert name here) but when I finally get a night out, I like to take off my ‘mom’ hat for a minute. I’d be happy to talk about this another time but right now I want to hear how you made this delicious five-layer dip!” Suggesting another topic, one that requires the other person to share some information, creates a natural segue.

  1. Tell a White Lie

When someone asks how your child is doing (complete with that look that’s a mix of pity, empathy and misery-loves-company) and you know you’re in for a 90-minute grilling, it’s OK to say, “He’s great, thanks for asking! Speaking of the kids, I think I may have left the stove on, so I’m just going to sneak out and call the sitter to double check.” When you re-enter the room, strike up a conversation with someone else.

  1. Pull the “Don Draper” 

Remember when the devilishly clever Mad Man said “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” Well, amen, Don.

Go in with at least three alternate topics you’re prepared to talk about and be ready to switch the subject at a moment’s notice. Anything from entertainment: “What are you reading/binge-watching?,” politics: “Have you seen that Instagram account ‘Trump my cat?,” or news: “Are these recent shark sightings changing your summer vacation plans?” should do the trick.

  1. Ask a New Party to Join the Party

If you suddenly find yourself in what feels like a Barbara Walters-style interview, draw someone else into the conversation and change its direction. Try something like, “Oh, I haven’t seen so-and-so since her kitchen renovation was completed. Let’s call her over and see if turned out exactly as she’d hoped!” Or, “Have you met Carol? She just moved here from Chicago and she’s an avid marathon runner. I’m dying to know more about that.”

Introducing someone the other person may not know can make them hesitant to continue their cross-examination or discuss their own issues. Speaking of keeping things close to the vest …

  1. Invoke a Privacy Clause 

If you’ve been put in the hot seat over the particulars of your out-of-district placement, simply say, “Our attorney advised us not to discuss the details; thanks so much for understanding.” Or, “(Partner) and I agree that out of respect for (child) we don’t really discuss that publicly. Thanks so much for respecting our wishes.”

Just as our children aren’t defined by their challenges, we are more than simply parents of a special needs child. While it certainly shapes our character and never leaves our minds, sometimes it’s great to shed that identity for a few hours and talk about anything else.

This article was featured in Issue 41 – Celebrating Family

Elizabeth Alterman

Elizabeth Alterman

Liz Alterman is a mom of three boys. She tries to keep as sense of humor about everything from parenting to unemployment. Follow her career adventures at On the Balls of Our A$$ets.

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Leslie Feinberg - March 8, 2016 Reply

This is the best parenting advise i’ve read in a long time! Where have you been all my life, Liz?? So many times I get sucked into conversations that I really didn’t want to have and then regret all the beans I spilled. I hate the way I do that! Thank you so much for some easy to implement “parent interventions” Oh, and our son is 25 years old! Thank you!!

    Liz Alterman - March 9, 2016 Reply

    Hi Leslie,

    Thanks so much for your comment. This is hard-won “wisdom” I’ve acquired after experiencing exactly what you described. It was getting to the point that I dreaded going places where I knew this topic would come up. I hope this helps and I wish you all the best.

ann sumich - March 8, 2016 Reply

“Ma, why didn’t you make more potatoes?” That’s the story about a question the 5 yr boy asked at the dinner table. Everbody dropped their silverware in shock! The kid had NEVER said a word before that.
The mother says: “Why didn’t you talk before now, son?”
“Because everything was okay till now,” was the answer he gave!
Yes, everyone knows what a terrible joke that is! But, that’s just about what happened to my middle son Dan who’d been completely silent (never even cried as a baby) till his 5th B-Day. Thank God, I’d taken to reading to him alone for one hr per day for a whole year. But, being a vegetable, he’d never had even the slightest reaction till then. Yes, it was a shocking miracle. Today Dan is a success with a college degree in science, a good job, and a fast new car. There are a few deficits, shyness, but he’s completely independent.

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