12 Ways to “Help” a Parent or Family Member with Special Needs Children
1. Just be with them. Sit alongside them and be okay with not having any answers. Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing if you are coming from a place of love and encouragement. Make sure that you are not saying something to alleviate your own discomfort. Try not to be a fixer. Just love them.
2. Encourage health (physical, emotional, spiritual). Invite them for a run/walk/cycle class. Invite them to a bible study or do one with them. Pay for a counseling appt. or if you are a counselor, provide some free sessions.
3. Remind them of their value. Most people regularly see the rewards of their work and/or parenting (completed projects, met deadlines, developmental growth, etc.). Special-needs families give and care for their children or family member often with no end in sight.
4. Bring them a meal. Find some way to get them what they need, whether it’s a healthy meal or just something delivered to their door so they can care for their child and household without the added pressure of meal prep. Ask about dietary restrictions and choose food accordingly.
5. Take them out for an afternoon/evening to do something NORMAL!(These can be simple things like shopping, a long walk or hike, a pedicure, a pottery or art class, fun at a go kart track, anything you’d do with your other friends.) Laughter is great!
6. Help with a date night! Put together a schedule where each family in their circle of friends can volunteer so they can have a consistent date night. Each couple could care for the special needs kids for three-to-four hours once a month or even every other month.
7. Let them cry and grieve. Intercede and pray over them in these moments. Ask God to heal their hearts and their wounds, and to revive their weary spirits.
8. Teach and speak to your children about ours. Make sure they treat our children with dignity and make effort to include them. Encourage your children to participate, interact, ask questions, and deal with their own discomforts. How can our family be friends with yours if only the adults interact with our children??
9. Allow them [special needs families] to help YOU. Hmmm, weird right? Loving someone else while you are suffering brings great freedom. It opens your heart and eyes to the world around you and reminds you that it’s still turning. There is often guilt or a refusal to allow someone in great need to help you. How humbling. It also blesses them. We are all human beings who are made to receive love AND give love. Families with special needs children who have endured a lot of suffering are often great teachers. They have a perspective that most of us will never have simply because we will not experience the depth of suffering they have.
10. Be a champion and advocate for special needs families. They are often depleted and run down by the many systems, providers and people that they have to interact with (schools, teachers, hospitals, physicians, insurance companies, sometimes even their own extended families). If you see they are being treated unfairly or being given poor care…STAND UP for them. If you see abuse or mistreatment, then do something.
11. Be thankful. As you listen to them, make mental notes of the things you have that they don’t and be grateful. It is often painful for special needs families to listen to people complain about the college a child didn’t get in to when they are dealing with children who can’t even write. It’s hard to hear moaning about a last place finish in sports when you have a special needs child who can’t walk or understand. Please don’t talk to special needs parents about how your child annoys you by asking too many questions, when their child may not even be able to speak.
12. If you see a need, don’t look away! This is hard because sometimes you cannot fix it all, but you can lift SOME of the burden. A shoulder to lean on, a utility bill paid, a gift card for groceries, a card in the mail to know they are not forgotten, spending time with their kids so special needs parents can nap, a drive to the doctor for company, a drywall repair, a room painted, a broken toilet fixed, monetary gifts for uncovered medical expenses, legal help, lawn care, coming for a visit to just keep them company…. the list goes on and on. It is a matter of seeing or hearing the need and meeting it if you are able. Just don’t look away. We are often the answer to unmet needs we see in front of us. Just do something! If you are a person who has already reached out, encourage others around you to do the same and show them how you did it. Get involved with an organization who helps these families. Most of all, just love the person in front of you in a tangible way.
The people who have done these things for my husband and I over the years have saved our life! (Home cooked meals, invitations to cycle classes, a run, sprinkler blowouts, caring for our children, birthday parties and prayer meetings for our boys, thoughtfully being mindful of their needs, likes, allergies, ministering to our boys on Sundays, monetary gifts, dropping by with laundry soap, making us feel welcome and included, making a grocery store run, inviting us to events, accepting us, helping us sell our home, crying with us, praying with us, giving us a voice, allowing us coffee/lunch/ice cream dates and so important—helping us nurture our marriage by helping with our children. These people have been the hands and feet of Jesus to us and have encouraged our own growth. They have comforted me as well as challenged me to grow. They were friends who refused to let me fall into a pattern of self-pity and victimization, but instead encouraged me to be the mother, wife, warrior and champion God has called me to be!
Something to remember is that these families are NOT FRAGILE! They have heavy burdens, but are people just like you and me who want to succeed at life. We each have our own gifts, talents and place in this world. BE BRAVE!
“PAIN IS NOT CONTAGIOUS, BUT JOY IS.” -COLLEEN MAILE