6 Ways to show LOVE to a Special Needs Family
1. Invite the parents to social events
This may seem simple but you wouldn’t believe what a big deal this can be to parents of special needs children. Many times, depending on what type of needs their child has, the parents are the sole caretaker with little respite and their stress level can go through the roof. Being invited out to a mom’s night out, to a family game night, double dinner date, or even to a concert or party can be just what those parents need to let go of some of the burdens they carry with them day in and day out. Don’t shy away from inviting them because you think they are too busy, not interested or that they won’t have childcare. Stay away from making assumptions. Being a special needs mom can be very isolating so this is a huge way to show love to them.
2. Create a judgment free zone
I’ve noticed a growing trend in our society. It happens in the news, on social media, and even in real life conversation: people judging parenting choices. I personally believe we shouldn’t judge and belittle parents for making some decisions which are different from our parenting philosophy. I want to push you to really evaluate if your parenting methods, ideas, and philosophies are worth your friendship.
Being a parent of a child with autism means I don’t really fit into any parenting philosophy. I’ve had to try many different parenting styles and have decided not to be tied to any one particular one. Every child who has a struggle or disability is slightly different and I found early on that my child really doesn’t fall into a typical pattern that would apply to other kids.
How and when I discipline him has to be different because his emotional, cognitive, and physical problems and needs are so different than my other kids. Sometimes this detachment from societal norms can isolate moms because we feel misunderstood and alone in this journey. We already carry the weight of the world, our own guilt and a tiresome amount of concerns on our shoulders. My son went through an extreme picky eating phase of gagging on foods he once loved, losing oral motor control, as we lost him into a world all his own. It was rough on him and the entire family. What we needed was comfort, love, prayer, support and absolutely no judgement or even a hint of you might not be parenting him correctly. Maybe you just need to walk this road before you judge it, but just take it from me. This isn’t a war you’ll win, and what is at stake is more than a friendship – it’s your friends and their family life. It’s work to explain and sometimes to even comprehend what is happening, so just step back and show compassion.
What worked for your little child won’t ever work for mine. It’s hard. What’s harder is when other parents don’t understand this and continually tell you what you are doing wrong. Encourage them without being patronizing. Be a friend who cares more about your friendship than if you think you are right or wrong. Chances are you will learn something from each other.
3. Show empathy and kindness toward their child
If the child is verbal or old enough to hold a conversation, strike one up with them. Show interest in what they are interested in. Ask about their favorite toys, books, movies, music, hobbies. You will have made a friend for life if you will play a game with my son. He has a hard time forming relationships and expressing himself, but if you will play one of his favorite games on his tablet with him he will love it and he’ll think the world of you.
Invite him into your world, in your likes and dislikes, because kids with special needs are people, too. Just because he has trouble understanding and expressing some things – doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to know more about you. Sometimes it seems that people forget that kids who have autism, developmental delays or other problems don’t have feelings just like any other kid. They do, and many are acutely aware of the fact that some people don’t treat them fairly or kindly. Don’t be that person – give them the same respect you would give other kids.
4. Include the child in play-dates and parties
This one is huge. You wouldn’t believe the lack of invites I’ve seen coming in for my son who has special needs. Before we figured out what was going on and his delays didn’t envelope him, he had tons of neuro-typical friendships. As he grew, he grew further and further apart mentally and emotionally from those children until it was just him all alone. Now, at age 13, he recognizes that he lacks friendships. Most people do not realize this. He asks me all the time when he can have a play-date. It is a hard place as a parent because I understand fully why he isn’t being invited. He simply doesn’t fit in with kids his age and now he is way too old to be going to a small child’s birthday party. I’m throwing this out there because if you know a child who doesn’t get invited to much, I want to encourage you to get outside your comfort zone and invite them to whatever you are hosting. If your child has birthdays with mixed ages, invite them. If your party is at a place like a children’s museum, a bounce house, or a pool party, invite them. The parents can decide if they think their child will do well, and the parents will most likely ask if they can stay just to make sure their child is adjusting and doing ok.
5. Ask about their child – show love and concern
Pick up the phone and call. Ask how things are going. Bring up the child in conversation. Show concern, show love, show support. Even sending a quick text or an email is a huge source of encouragement. It means that you are thinking about us and you care.
If you happen to know of another mom struggling with a diagnosis, teaching their child, or finding a specialist, offer to get the two in touch. This has helped me so much through the years. I made connections with other moms who were able to give me tips on the best neurologist, therapists, info on insurance and hospitals all because someone introduced me to another mom whose child also had special needs.
Be the listening ear. Sometimes we need to talk about what we are going through, needing encouragement and finding strength, sometimes we need to share what we’ve been through. I want to thank all the friends who have shown love in this way, through the years. I know it isn’t always easy to know what to say, but just knowing you feel compassion toward my child and toward me means the world.
6. Offer to help
I have one friend who is never afraid to jump in when I need help. My son needed a colonoscopy at the age of five. The prep for that wasn’t fun and was stress inducing for both him and me. At the time I had two other children ages three and one. She didn’t hesitate to come over help with him drinking whatever concoction he needed to clean out his bowels, help me keep the other kids happy, and even stayed the night just in case we needed extra help and hands late into the night. Offer to babysit. Bring dinners. Give respite. Many special needs parents deal with surgeries, endless consults, specialist visits, sicknesses, hospitalizations, multiple types of therapies, sleepless nights, special diets, meltdowns, behaviors and have other children who also need them on top of all the rest. Be the person who sees a need and runs toward it. They may turn you down time and time again because so many of us want to be able to do it all. The truth is we can do it all and we can also burn ourselves out. Even if we act like we don’t need it still offer it. You never know what a blessing you can be to the entire family.
If you have any other ideas for showing love and support to special needs families, leave a comment below!
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