By Kodey Toney
I often talk about what we can do to help our children who are coping with disabilities. I say that we must be the advocate for our kids and that is the most important job you have. I truly believe this, but once you do this for so long it can cause wear and tear on you both mentally and physically. I came across a post on a friend’s Facebook recently, and while I think I have probably written about this subject in the past it is good to revisit it because it is very important as parents to take care of yourselves. If you breakdown then you can’t help anyone. This article explains what you as a friend, family member, co-worker, or outsider can do to help a parent of a child with special needs.
This article, which is from a blog called “Beautiful In His Time” which is written by a woman named Aprille (I couldn’t find more than this). She has some great advice, and I’d like to share some of it with you including my take on it a little. I’m paraphrasing some of this information.
1. “Express that you care her as a person, as a fellow mom who is just like you. That you care about her child and the special needs that her child has.” There is nothing more important to anyone than to know that they are valuable. There are times when you wonder if what you’re doing as a parent is really the right thing, and there are times when you know you’ve done the wrong things. It’s very nice to have someone let you know that you are doing a good job.
2. “Don’t forget that she’s a mom and a woman – just like you are. Treat her like a normal mom, not some freak of nature.” We often get caught up in the disability world, and especially those from the “outside” think, “Oh, it takes a special person to cope with what she’s going through.” Well, underneath that often-tough exterior there is a normal mom just like most others.
3. “Include her AND her special needs child. Invite them to play dates and birthday parties. Take her out for coffee and invite her to your girls’ outings. Sit with them at church.” Just like kids in school, parents of special needs children just want to be treated the same as anyone else. We often feel like we’re outsiders because we tend to watch our children a little closer and become overprotective. We are seen as recluses because we typically don’t like to go out in public too much unless we have to. It’s a great feeling to know that someone has given you a chance to “fit in” at a get-together. Don’t be surprised if they turn you down, but keep inviting them. They may be just a little apprehensive.
Aprille writes - “It might be stressful. You and your children will probably make “mistakes” when interacting with her special-needs child. But you will never learn how to act around them unless you try. And I promise you, that taking the time to do so will mean so much to them that they will be much more understanding of your mistakes than if you had kept your distance.”
4. “Ask her questions. You will probably never fully understand her life, but at least try to show an interest in what she goes through on a daily basis.” Besides showing interest, which is a great thing to anyone, it gives her a chance to vent. This is one of the greatest forms of therapy for a parent to let others hear you. Don’t be surprised if tears come. Just listen and try to understand.
5. “Learn her language. She might speak in acronyms like IEP, ABA, ASD, and SPD. Ask her what they mean.” There are so many different “letters” out there that it’s hard to understand even for someone who studies them like me. But if you ask questions then you will begin to learn. If you have a questions chances are someone else does to, don’t be afraid to ask.
6. “Keep advice to yourself. This is probably where people make some of the most hurtful comments to a special-needs mom.” We are constantly hearing advice, both good and bad, from all sides of the issue. As I said before, we know we’re doing good and bad parenting from time to time. The last thing we need is someone telling us this. What we need is someone to listen to our problems. If they ask for advice then it’s your time to deliver, but even then proceed with caution.
7. “Don’t invalidate or downplay her hardship by saying “oh, my child does that too.” Holy cow this is the worst thing in the world for me. I get irritated when I hear a parent complain about their neurotypical child having a “meltdown”. Your child can be crazy, I have a child who is neurotypical, I know. Don’t forget what that child goes through on a daily basis with sensory issues or neurological problems.
On the other hand, for my parents of children with special needs, don’t over-do your side of things. I have had to watch myself on this one in the past. Everyone understands that your child has issues. Don’t remind them every time they talk about their child. Don’t be that parent who says, “Yeah, but my kids has autism,” or “Try it with a child with autism.”
8. “Refuse to compare your child’s development to hers. When she announces that her child finally said a sentence, or went potty, or started walking – and your child did it 10 months ago – keep. your. mouth. shut. and simply rejoice with her.” Our goals, obstacles, and milestones are always going to be different. Don’t throw it in their face that their child has delays. If it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you don’t forget how hard that child and parent had to work to get to that point. It probably wasn’t as easy with their child.
9. “Offer tangible help. Offer to babysit and ask the questions or get the education needed to know how to babysit her child.” Nothing can mean more to a parent than a couple minutes of “me time”. Again, don’t be surprised if you are turned down a couple times because they don’t want to leave their child with just anyone. Keep offering and explain that you want them to teach you how to care for their child.
10. “Pray for her and her child. Pray for healing for her child or improvement in her child’s functions and behavior.” I’ve talked in the past about how important it is to keep God and prayer in your life. If you have someone else praying along with you it can work wonders.
There is a ton of great advice in her blog, and I cut some of it down. I’m going to include the site address so that you can get the full article: http://beautifulinhistime.com/2013/06/10/how-to-encourage-a-special-needs-mom/.