Not Sure About How To Help Special Needs Families Either?
There tends to be some tension regarding how to respond to those with special needs. For those of us who are unfamiliar with this dynamic in our own homes, we aren’t sure if we should bring a little extra love to their tables, or assume their lives are the same as ours. I didn’t know the answer, so I asked Jenn Soehnlin, an author and mama of special needs boys to give us some insight on how to support a special needs parent. Hope it guides you, like it has me!
Ten Ways To Support A Special Needs Parent
Being a special needs parent is challenging, stressful, and isolating. Their calendars are full of trips to therapies and specialists. They have to advocate for their children with doctors, with insurance, with schools, with their communities. They worry about what their child’s future will be like and who will take care of their children if something happens to them. Their workload is increased taking care of their childrens’ additional needs. In fact, special needs parents who have children with complex medical needs or significant delays are reported to have stress levels as high as combat soldiers. Most special needs parents begin struggling with anxiety, depression and/or health issues because of the stress they are under. It is easy for them to put their children first and neglect their own well being.
I know this firsthand. I have two children with special needs, and the struggle is real. The special needs parenting gig is not easy. But we will do anything for our children and so that’s what we do. We see beyond our child’s appearance and behaviors and see deep down to their heart–their joys, their passions, their giftings–and love that child fiercely. We put one tired foot in front of the other and do the things that need to be done to care for our family. The special needs parenting journey is filled with blessings too, don’t get me wrong. Our hearts and eyes are opened to a whole new world of compassion and understanding that we hadn’t experienced before. And you can begin to grow from it too, by loving and supporting the special needs families in your lives.
Here are my ten suggestions for how you can support a special needs parent in your life. And maybe, just maybe, you will be blessed by the experience as well. It’s a win-win situation for all!
#1 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Make a point to reach out and see how they are really doing. They will initially respond with “good” when you ask how they are doing. But ask again. “How are you really doing?” That’s when they’ll more than likely open up. Then take the time to listen. Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it. Just let them know you’re there for them and you care about them.
#2 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Send a text or encouraging note or a small gift, just to let them know that you’re thinking about them.
#3 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Tell them they’re doing a great job. Believe me, it’ll mean the world to them, because special needs parents frequently feel like they’re failing their kids or not doing enough for their kids.
#4 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Offer childcare. The special needs parenting gig is a 24/7 job and childcare is incredibly hard to find for children with special needs. Whether you provide a few hours or an overnight break, it will be a huge gift to the special needs parents who desperately need rest and time away.
#5 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Ask what you can do to help, or volunteer your services for a way you know you can help the family. Maybe they need childcare, help with yard work, dinner one night a week, financial help to pay for expensive medical equipment or therapy appointments, etc.
#6 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Be willing to learn. Parents are grateful to have someone interested in learning more about their child’s diagnosis, and about their children’s struggles and latest victories. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (or study a little on your own) so you can better support your friend and their child(ren).
#7 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Get to know their child. Not just about their diagnosis and behaviors, but about their passions and interests. Bonus points for gifting the child something that will excite them. It will mean a lot to the parents to know that their child is loved for who they are.
#8 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Celebrate the victories with them. Their child (and the parents and therapists too!) have worked their butts off to learn to do something that comes so naturally to other kids. Praise and celebrate each milestone and every little inch in-between with them. Point out and praise a new skill you’ve seen their child doing–it’ll encourage their weary heart that you’ve noticed their child’s progress.
#9 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Invite them somewhere. Invite the whole family over to dinner or out to dinner. Invite the neurotypical siblings to a fun outing. Invite your friend to join you for coffee or a movie. Invite all their kids to your kid’s birthday party. They may not be able to come, but just to know that someone was thinking about them and wanting to include them will mean the world to them.
#10 Way to Support a Special Needs Parent
Create an inclusive environment. If they are able to come, include the whole family and make any necessary accommodations you are able to for their special needs child. It doesn’t require much, just a willingness to connect with this family. This will not only mean the world to the special needs parents, but you will be setting a positive role model for your own family and friends.
Jenn Soehnlin is a mother to two young boys who are precious blessings and who both have special needs. She is the author of Embracing This Special Life: Learning to Flourish as a Mother of a Child with Special Needs. Jenn enjoys blogging about faith and special needs parenting at www.embracing.life.
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