How to Treat a Special Needs Person (Or How Not to Treat Them)

I am writing this as advice to anyone who has an encounter or daily dealings with special needs people. I have raised a son for 27 years with special needs and chronic medical conditions. I realize that it can be an uncomfortable situation at times, especially when you are not prepared of how to relate to a special needs person. This can also serve as a reminder for those who interact daily with people with special needs.



1) Greet them as you do everyone.

Re: Adults -Talk to them in your adult voice. They want to be treated like an adult. This will also encourage them to use their adult voice and will help with their speech. Small talk can be anything, the weather, the activities going on that day, the local events.

Don’t ask them personal questions, chances are you might be being too nosy.

Re: Children -Don’t underestimate their intelligence, talk to them at their own personal level. If you don’t know their level, then just keep the conversation light and pleasant.

2) Sometimes special needs people love being social and don’t recognize the cues that you want to be alone or just plain don’t want to talk to them. Politely excuse yourself and say you have things to do.

3) Don’t make them promises that you won’t be following through with. We all have had people make us promises that are not kept. When you promise a special needs person something you should do your absolute best to follow through. It could be years down the road and they are still waiting for you to take them to that movie or grab that cup of coffee.

4) Don’t think they should be your conversation piece when around friends. They have the right to their privacy too. I have seen so many times people use my son’s story for their own attention at social functions.

5) Do not lead them on to believe that a relationship is more than what it really is or will be. Do not tell them they are your family when they are not. No matter how close you are, do not imply you’re their other mother or anything like this. You are totally setting them up for a big let down.

6) Have patience. Let them talk too. Listen to what they have to say. You may feel it is not important, but it is to them or they wouldn’t be saying it.

7) Don’t laugh, mock or make fun of them and don’t stare.

8) Behaviors can be escalated with special needs people. Sometimes pain and sensory issues are a part of it. It can also be other contributing factors. Again patience is the key. Other times intervention will be required by their parent and/or guardian. When you don’t understand what is happening or why their behavior is out of the norm, don’t judge it.

9) Ask them before you help them. Some special needs people just need a little or a lot of extra time to complete something that seems so easy to you. They may or may not want your help. They have the right to complete the task at hand at their own pace whether or not you are in a hurry or not.


  • Some take longer making a purchase in a check out line, they have the right to their own time for their purchase.
  • If they have fallen, before grabbing them to help them up, ask if they need your help. Ask if they are okay. Ask if they need you to contact someone for help etc.
  • It can be a simple thing to you at a meal, like buttering a bun that looks like an incredible task for them. They may have taken years to develop the skill they have at buttering that bread. Let them do it on their own if that is what they wish.


10) Everyone is different, do not think all special needs people are the same. There are many different labels out there and ever changing at that. Everyone has their own uniqueness.



11)  If you have concerns about behaviors or any issue, address the parents and/or guardians.

12) Being as this is likely being read by adults, I am asking you that are parents to teach your children to treat special needs people as people. It starts young!

13) Don’t belittle, degrade, over talk, bully, antagonize or mistreat this person in any way.

14) They are NOT mistakes! Yes, I actually have heard this be said.

15) Do not overuse their forgiveness!

16) Do not pretend to be their friend when you really aren’t. Don’t lead them on as you want to be their friend when you really don’t want to be.

17) Remember they are someone’s child, brother, sister, family and friend. Remember everyone has feelings.

18) We all have our talents. Work with their talents, this will give them self esteem.



Written by: Debbie

 How to Treat a Special Needs Person (Or How Not to Treat Them)


  1. Stephanie LaPlante | | Reply

    Wonderful post. I’m a severely physically disabled woman but have many opposite feelings. I encourage adults and children to ask questions. People stare because they’re curious and sometimes were never taught about the special needs world. I love making people feel more comfortable. =D

    • kissygluvvym | | Reply

      I love your charisma Stephanie. Yes, I found this a hard post to write. So many different areas to cover in so very many special situations. I was trying to keep it as neutral and general as I could think of.

  2. Doris Humber | | Reply

    (fixed my typo)
    This post is an eye-opener for me.
    Whenever I have been around people with special needs, I do my best to respectfully treat them as I would anyone else. Your post certainly gave me added insight as to how people with special needs may perceive certain behaviours & dialogue.
    Really great perspective…love it. Thank you for sharing!

    • kissygluvvym | | Reply

      Thank you Doris. I realize there are differences amongst everyone. I hope to help educate people even just a little bit.

  3. Sarah De Diego | | Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on the situation you find yourself in. Like you said, everyone is different but this post is great food for thought. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    Besos Sarah
    Journeys of The Zoo

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