For the parent of a child with special needs, every aspect of parenting is magnified. Playdates become complex projects requiring diplomacy, support, and vast quantities of time and patience. Trips to the doctor are frequent, pretty expensive and tough. Ordinary shopping excursions are strewn with potential disasters and pitfalls.
With so much more to think about, worry about, plan for, and manage, special needs parents really do have… special needs and do require a lot of help.
If you’re the friend, sibling, mom, or dad of a parent of a child with special needs you may be wondering “What can I do to help?” The good news is, there are many ways you can make a difference without changing your life or overwhelming yourself and your family.
Here are ways you can help families who are coping with the ups and downs of life with a child who is considered to be “special.”
Offer to babysit:
If it’s within your comfort and ability zone, give your friends a break by looking after their special needs child for an hour, an evening, or even a weekend. This is called respite care, and it’s an extraordinary gift.
Give siblings a special treat:
Many people with special needs kids have typically developing children who also need attention. When you can, consider taking the siblings of a special needs child out for a treat, or even chauffeuring them to their sports events and cheering them on. It’s a great way to build a relationship while giving Mom and Dad a little time to themselves.
Get a clue:
Don’t be that sister, cousin, or parent who stares blankly at a child with special needs and wonders how to engage with them. Instead, read a book, watch a video, attend a class, or ask questions so that you can jump right in during family events.
It won’t cost you a nickel to be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
Take a walk:
Give the parent of a special needs child a chance to get outside in the fresh air and get a little exercise with a friend or loved one.
Be supportive and positive:
It’s all too easy to get into negative talk when discussing a child with special needs. Instead of spiraling downward, though, do your best to accentuate the positive. Tell your friend or loved one that they’re doing a great job, and point to some of the very real positive outcomes they’re almost certainly seeing.
While it’s sometimes hard to imagine the challenges of special needs parenting, pity doesn’t help. In fact, pity can reinforce frustrations and feelings of isolation. Avoid it.
Set an example for inclusion:
Show others how inclusion is done by finding ways to include your friend’s special needs child in ordinary activities. If you need to, accommodate challenges. For example, if the child with special needs has a hard time climbing to the top of a slide, give her a hand. If she can’t pump a swing, give her a push. If she’s not quite understanding the rules of a game, simplify the game. It’s not as hard as it looks!
With that seemingly little help you’re offering that family with a special needs child, you’re making the world a safer, better place.
Have you worked with a special needs child before? Please share your experience with us in the comment section.