Throughout life’s challenges, we have had people tell us “Let us know if you need help.” I have learned that people either say this to make themselves feel better – like offering to help takes them off the hook – or they say it because they really don’t know what to do.
One area of my life that I have received many blank stares is coming along side us as we raise special needs children. While it has gotten easier as our children have grown, it is still a daily challenge dealing with impulse control, anxiety, social misunderstanding, and sensory meltdowns in two of our children.
What many don’t understand is that it is a lonely, exhausting, heart-wrenching journey. Between the multiple doctor and therapy appointments, the daily energy drains, and the unknown, it is a challenge to keep your chin up, let alone keep your head above water with daily tasks.
But there are specific things that people can do to minister to families in this situation. Below is just a sampling of ideas that my friend’s on Facebook and I have found to be a huge blessing. Ideas that can be implemented year around but especially to help these families have a blessed Christmas.
1. Help with Other Children
Especially when Little Man is in a valley, it is incredibly difficult to manage the other children. Having an extra set of hands, even for a few minutes, is a wonderful blessing. This could be taking a child outside to play, reading a book to the other children, or helping with a child while I stir soup on the stove so it doesn’t burn. Now that our children are older, it would be such a blessing to have someone to supervise after-school activities while I help a child through a meltdown or anxiety attack.
Many have no idea how hard it is to get a babysitter for kids with special needs, let alone pay for a qualified person. But there are times, like during a long doctor’s appointment, when a babysitter is necessary. At other times a babysitter frees the parent to go to the grocery store, do Christmas shopping, or just take a nap. It is amazing what a break away from the children will do for the mood or energy level. Along the lines of a babysitter, provide the parents with a date night. Having a child with special needs can be devastating on a marriage – especially if a strong foundation isn’t already in place – and date nights are even more important for these parents.
3. Love on Siblings
Sweet Pea and Peanut aren’t demanding and typically don’t require immediate attention. Because of this oftentimes they get my leftovers. I praise God for those who provide one-on-one attention for these two kiddos or watch the other children so I can spend quality time with them.
4. Volunteer Specific Services
If someone asks me what they can do, I say, “Nothing. Just pray for wisdom.” But when someone says they are bringing a meal and they want to know what time to drop it by, I will cry. Whether it’s a meal, doing laundry, or decorating a Christmas tree, offering specific ideas makes it easier. If you are able to continue the help, provide the service on a specific day each week. Meal ideas…
5. Give Us Grace
I have unintentionally offended people simply because my plate was full, I was focused on a child, or I was exhausted. Please give me grace and realize it isn’t personal.
Listen. Ask questions. Don’t judge. Encourage. Set aside a specific time when the parent can say what’s on their heart. Follow up with a snail mail note to remind them that you are praying.
7. Don’t Judge
Parenting has been the most humbling part of my life. Whether my child is throwing a fit, disobeying, or having a sensory meltdown, please don’t judge my parenting skills off of one incident. There is nothing more disheartening than when a person makes a side comment on how you are parenting. Don’t forget that you have no idea the battles that are fought at home. Also don’t judge the decisions we make with our children. Know that all decisions are made with much prayer and through gained wisdom from experts in the field. If you are concerned about a decision we have made, please share in a humble manner after much prayer.
I will never forget the people who have encouraged me with a simple, “You are doing good. Keep going.”
Care enough to learn about the child’s diagnosis or disability. And, teach your own children about differences, how to include children with special needs, and how they can help a child who struggles in social situations. Also, prior to events or activities, find out what you can do to include the child and family. Oftentimes, it is simple things that can make a huge difference.
10. Be Sensitive
Understand that stating your child’s advanced accomplishments can be hard for a momma who is struggling with the limitations of her own child.
11. Look Deeper Than the Surface
Even if we look like we have it all together, no one is perfect. We desperately desire a friend to walk the road with us. A friend who isn’t afraid of our tears and honest feelings. A friend who isn’t afraid to push up her shirt sleeves, get dirty, and wash dishes. A friend who celebrates any improvements – no matter how small.
And the list goes on…
You may be thinking, “But what about the parent of this child? What is their role in this?”. You are correct. As recipients of help, we need to let go of pride and allow people to serve us. Next, we need to be honest when people ask. Last, we need to let go of any bitterness and remember that most people aren’t intentionally trying to hurt us.
One more point…some of you reading this would love to have my challenges over the ones you face day in and day out. Please know that you have my utmost respect as I am reminded often how our situation could be so much harder. But not matter the degree, I believe these ideas can help all families with children having special-needs.
The point is that there are many ways to minister to these families. Most ideas don’t all take lots of time, money, or experience. Most only require a servant’s heart.
Update: Jessica reminded me that these are also great ideas for ministering to parents who have special needs.