Published on: April 6, 2018
What are the right words? Which are the wrong ones?
What can I do—and what shouldn’t I do?
If you have a friend or loved one who is the parent of a special needs child, these are all questions you may be asking yourself. While some people seem to have that natural ability to always know how to respond or react in any given situation, others struggle. And that’s okay. Here are five things you can do to be the friend you want to be.
Put Out the Invitation
Depending on the child’s disability, he or she may not always be able to partake in every activity (and the parents of a special needs child don’t expect every event to be planned around them, either). Despite major improvements in accessibility over the years, some children still can get sensory overload from loud noises, bright lights, and crowded spaces. But don’t rule them out, either; some public parks in Florida offer sensory-friendly play areas where children with and without disabilities can mingle, and major theater chains like AMC and Cobb Theaters are offering sensory-friendly viewings of movies. Even Chuck E. Cheese is now holding “Sensory Sensitive Sundays” to include participation of kids with disabilities.
Regardless of the activity, a little thought into how a special needs child could be included in some events can have a very positive impact on the parents and the child.
Ask Questions—But Respect Limits
If you have children, you probably love to talk about them. And you love when people ask you questions about them because it gives you an excuse to talk about them. The parents of a special needs child are no different. So ask questions. A simple, “how’s Sarah doing” will suffice, but if you’re comfortable, ask more specific questions to express interest and engage the parent. If Sarah’s visually impaired, ask how the braille lessons are coming, or if she likes the new screen reader computer.
Of course, respecting limits means knowing they might not always want Sarah to be the topic of conversation. While it may seem like their world revolves around her (and it often may), they need a break too. Whether they want to talk about work, their latest Netflix addiction, or neighborhood gossip, take a cue and lay off the special needs talk for a while.
Lend a Hand
Don’t think of this as “pity” or “charity.” If another loved one was overwhelmed, you’d offer to help them too, right? This doesn’t always mean offering to take care of the child—sometimes you may not be equipped to take on that role, or the child may not be receptive to it. But if your loved one has other kids, perhaps you can offer to watch them for a while; they may feel overshadowed by their sibling anyhow, so this gives them some “me time” and lets the parents focus explicitly on their special needs child without regret.
You may also offer to tag along to a doctors’ appointment for support, run an errand, shovel their driveway. Just bringing over some chicken noodle soup after a particularly hectic day—or a bottle of wine to split—is a nice gesture.
Do Your Research
There are disabilities we’ve heard about, but don’t really know much about. Your knowledge of autism, for example, may stem from nothing more than a charity walk your office was hosting; or perhaps you thought ADHD was nothing more than a child on a sugar high. Rather than make assumptions or ask indelicate questions, do some online research of your own to develop a better understanding of the disability or disorder.
You might also consider joining an online support group or simply scroll through related forums; there, you can read first hand accounts from parents who are experiencing the same thing as your loved one—their frustrations, their challenges, and their wins.
Be Accepting of New Friends
As supportive as you may be and as open as your loved one may be with you, unless you have a special needs child of your own you’ll never be able to fully understand exactly what they are going through and how they are feeling. Know that they may reach out to other parents of children with special needs through support groups or social media.
Don’t take any of these new relationships or friendships entering the picture as a slight against you; it’s just that having a friend or acquaintance that is in their same shoes can be a relief and an emotional outlet.
Remember, the most important thing you can do for the parent of a special needs child is to be there for them when they need you. And again, you don’t always need to have the right words—sometimes having no words and just being all ears is all they want.
If your friend or loved one is the parent of a child with special needs, and is considering applying for disability benefits for children, Disability Experts of Florida is always here to help. We’re happy to speak about disability requirements for children, the application process, and any other concerns. Speak with a caring expert today.