I can get ornery when it comes to my kids. All moms do, right? We've all felt the surge of Mama Bear-ness when we sense one of our cubs is in danger.

Mama Bears of cubs with differences, whether that's an extra chromosome, a pair of glasses or a sibling of a different race, may be predisposed to a touch of extra-special orneriness. We may be on edge more often, and we may be quicker to flash our teeth.

I know this. I have a 3-year-old son with Down syndrome and an almost-2-year-old daughter with curly, satiny soft hair. They both have attitude, personality, meltdowns, infectious laughter and the cutest little noses. Oh, and random hoarding tendencies. That part's fun.

Charlie, my son with Down syndrome, attracts people and questions like a life-sized magnet. Sometimes, those questions include comments full of generalities. Sometimes I'm in the mood to respond appropriately, and sometimes I want to wrap those generalities around the asker's neck and squeeze him or her for latte money.

But that's not helpful. Not to anyone. So, what do I wish people would think about before asking me a question?


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Ask, why do I want to know?

The truth is, I can usually tell when intentions are sincere and hearts are pure. In all likelihood, if you're reading this article, then you mean well. But sometimes, questions come from Nosyville, and this Mama Bear's got no time for that. But if you genuinely care, then I will always make time to answer as many questions as your mind can concoct. (My own has plenty!)


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Ask if it's OK to ask

When you ask me if it's OK to ask, it tells me my feelings matter to you.

I seem to respond best when the person prefaces the question with something along the lines of, "Do you mind if I ask a question about Charlie? About Down syndrome?" I never mind. I mean that with all of my 46 chromosomes and in honor of Charlie's 47. And when you ask me if it's OK to ask, it tells me my feelings matter to you. You understand I might be sensitive. You understand I may have claws that need some taming.


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Know that asking is always better than presuming

Lexi Magnusson is a writer, wife and mother of four. Her middle son has autism and her daughter has Down syndrome. She blogs at Mostly True Stuff, and she does a fabulous job addressing some of the more common questions we get as parents of a child with an extra chromosome in a post on ScaryMommy. But my absolute favorite line is this: "The worst thing you can say to a mother of a child with Down syndrome, by far though, is nothing at all."


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Bottom line: Please, please ask

The idea that someone might walk away from us with a misconception or bad information hurts my heart. My priority in life is to advocate for my children, so please help me by asking whatever is on your mind.

Jo Ashline has an 11-year-old son with autism, a 10-year-old son with a sock collection and a kick-butt blog. She recently wrote, "What's Wrong with Him?" Is Better Than "He Doesn't Exist." She so accurately addresses how we (as parents of a child with different abilities) need parents of "typically developing children" (please don't say "normal") to nurture their curiosities about our children — or anyone who may be different.

Your child will someday ignore or embrace my child, lift him up or tear him down, pretend he doesn't exist or defend his rights as a human being.

"Your child will someday vote on the issues that are relevant to my child," Magnusson writes. "Your child will someday encounter my child on the street, in a Dr.'s office, at the beach, in a restaurant. They will either hurriedly walk past him or hold the door open and make sure it doesn't slam in his face.

"Your child will someday ignore or embrace my child, lift him up or tear him down, pretend he doesn't exist or defend his rights as a human being.

"Your child is the key to my child's future safety and well-being."

I can't say it any better than that.

Read more about special needs

When strangers stare at children with special needs
Having a sibling with Down syndrome
The truth about my child with Down syndrome

Photo credit: Jennifer Scott Photography

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