Today's guest post was written by Crystal Paschal, who is a preschool teacher, writer, and mom of two boys. She is a regular contributor at Prime Parents Club, board secretary of The Monkey Do Project, and blogs about family life in Indianapolis at Mom For Less.
In 2007 a very special little girl entered my preschool classroom, and my heart. She was two years old, but was non-verbal, did not walk, and was not eating solid foods at the time. As I got to know this beautiful child and her parents, a friendship quickly formed between our families that has lasted to this day.
Today that little girl is a beautiful seven-year-old, and while some of her previous conditions have resolved, new ones have emerged, and she still faces challenges every day. She has taught me much about patience and perseverance, and being close with her family has taught me much about being a friend to special needs parents. These families need love and support as they work to make the best decisions for their child. Here are some ways you can help:
Learn the child’s story. Each special needs child has a story that is unique. Find out your friends’ story – how did they arrive at a diagnosis? What types of treatment does the child receive? What victories has the family achieved? What struggles are they still facing? What things are difficult for the child, and what things do they absolutely love? Listen and learn with the goal of understanding.
Don’t try to fix the child. Your friend needs your support; they don’t need you to “solve” their “problems.” Keep the advice to a minimum, and just listen when your friend needs to talk. Remember that there aren’t any “cure-alls” when it comes to the various issues special needs children face. What worked for your aunt, your sister, or your boss may not work for everyone. If you do find information that might be helpful to your friend, share it in a way that invites their input – try “What do you think about this news article?” versus “This is what you should be doing for your child.”
Let your kids play with their kid. One of the biggest fears that special needs parents face is that their child will not have friends, or will be mistreated by others. Something as simple as setting up a play date can help alleviate these fears. My kids and my friend’s kids play together regularly, and they all love each other like brothers and sisters. Play dates like this help a special needs child feel loved and accepted, and they help your children learn that people with special needs are people, too.
Give your friend a break. Take your friend out for coffee when she’s had a bad day. Offer to baby-sit so your friends can have a date night. Or just come over and hang out when that special needs parent needs another grown up to talk to. All parents need a break, but the demands of special needs parenting are especially challenging. Sometimes special needs parents just need a chance to recharge their batteries so they can face the challenges ahead. The gift of a night out can be blessing for both parent and child!
Listen. I can’t even begin to understand the things my friends go through as special needs parents. Most of the time I don’t have good advice to give, or a solution to the problems they’re facing. But I can be a listening ear. I can be a safe place where my friends can share all of their frustration without any fear of judgment. Sometimes that is the best gift you can give.
Special needs parents are just like us “regular” parents; they love their children and they want what is best for them. They challenges they face may be different, but our hearts are all the same. By being a friend to a special needs parent and providing the emotional support they need, you can make a world of difference in their lives and the lives of their children. And if you’re like me, you’ll find that those special kids and their families will continually bless you in return.