Maybe you are friends with parents of a special need kid. Maybe they're your neighbor. Maybe even your own relative is raising a child with some type of special need, be it physical or "invisible" (is any special need truly invisible? I think that description is such a stretch!). Whatever your relationship is to a parent who is raising an exceptional child, you landed here because you are wondering how you can help. So, here are some very really & very helpful ways to help ease the stress of parenting a differently-abled kid. Pick your favorite, or rotate through them all, just let that parent know YOU SEE THEM, and they matter.
Respite - seems the most obvious of needs, right? Yet it's usually the least offered. Or, shall I say it's offered, but with very little follow-through. How wonderful it would be if more people would recognize this very real need & follow through on their offer to help.
- Pick the kid(s) up for a quick trip to the neighborhood park while mom and/or dad rests/reads/cleans/showers/drinks actual HOT coffee.
- Come over & entertain the kid(s) -even for just 30 minutes!- while mom sneaks away for a peaceful walk or runs over to nearby coffee shop for a moment of normalcy.
- Invite the kid(s) to your house to play with your kid(s) (or yourself) for a few hours so dad can clean the garage, so mom can go grocery shopping, so mom & dad can nap.
- Offer babysitting any night of the week (or even during the day on weekends if witching hours scare you, or the kid(s) are more difficult at night). Send mom & dad off to enjoy each other's company uninterrupted. (Have you seen the divorce statistics for parents of special needs kids? Crazy high. Why? Not only is there constant stress in the house, but also, there is rarely time to devote to the marital relationship!)
- Tell mom to schedule that doctor/dentist/hair/nail/etc appointment & you'll be there to watch the kids. Don't ask, TELL. We don't make self care a priority. Personally, I cancelled my last dentist appointment because my child didn't sleep the night before & refused to go to a friend's house while I had my teeth cleaned. I haven't had a well woman exam in, oh... 5+ years! We do not put ourselves first, we need someone to MAKE us do that.
Acknowledgment - we need to know someone sees us. What we are doing is even more thankless than moms of neurotypical children. We take constant abuse (some verbal, some physical, some both!), we spend every ounce of our energy being sure other's needs are met. We try to use our learned lessons to help others. and yet, we fell invisible & left out.
- A card in the mail with a silly joke to make us smile.
- A handwritten letter, that spells out ways we matter to you & others.
- An email or text just to say you're thinking about us.
- A phone call, though we'll likely not answer... so a voicemail, just saying hi.
Gifts - gifts don't have to be extravagant or overthought (though those are also welcomed), just something that shows us you see us & that we are valued.
- A special treat - coffee, soda, tea (caffeine is almost always a welcomed gift!), chocolate, our favorite junk food, an extra cupcake you have... whatever might bring a smile without costing you mush money or effort, left on our doorstep to surprise us. (Might want to text if that door doesn't get used much, ha!)
- That special little something you saw that made you think of us.
- Flowers/plants, because even if we aren't big into those things, the life they bring with them sometimes is just the right pick-me-up.
- A book - be it a trashy magazine, a best seller, a self help book (be sure you know we want it or you can create a whole new problem!), a coloring book... anything we can attempt to escape with while we sit by our UNsleeping child in the wee hours.
- Bubble bath/soap/lotion - something to encourage us to slow down & care for ourselves a bit.
Help - we need more help than we will ever admit to you. Even if you are our very best friend.
- Come over & do the dishes while we chat. We'll tell you not to, but really, we're not going to stop you if you insist.
- Drive all of us to the park & help wrangle the kids.
- Advice, a new perspective, or support in whatever latest & greatest effort we're attempting to use to improve our child(ren)'s situation.
Friendship - it's so easy to lose friends when you're a special needs parent. We don't always have enough time to devote to friendship, we bring a lot of baggage, we have horrible memories because our brains are full of information for our kid(s)... We really need loyal friends though!
- Talk to us - tell us your problems! Don't think we don't care or that your problems aren't as bad as ours, so they aren't important. Tell us about silly things going on in your life. Talk to us about real life.
- Listen to us - sometimes we don't need a fix, we just need an ear. But you've got to really hear us. Our spouses can be so overwhelmed that we don't want to burden them with some details, or they are so tired they don't hear things we share. We need to share.
- Laugh with us - our lives are difficult, but they are also fun filled! Our children are our lives, but they aren't all that we have going on!
- Get us out of the house - or sit with us in the house. Just encourage us to have a few hours of ME time, to be selfish & enjoy the company of other adults.
- Understand us & be patient with us - we often forget to return calls or texts, so call or text again (and don't take it personally). We say things we don't mean at times because we're just so overwhelmed - don't take it to heart, but tell us if we hurt you so we can fix it.
- Accept & love us - if our lives are too much for you, don't waste our time (we make great acquaintances, way less drama with that sort of relationship). If you're willing to take on our friendship, accept that it might not be the easiest, but it will be worthwhile.
- LOVE OUR KIDS - if you can't accept our kids AS THEY ARE, and love them AS THEY ARE, let's not be friends. Our kids come first & we just can't be friends if you can't deal with the fact that our children are a bit different.
The biggest thing we need is people who care. We have this crazy ability to weed out gawkers & drama-seekers pretty quickly. We don't have time for that stuff. We need love & acceptance, just like you - just probably on a bigger scale than you. We are human, and we have good & bad days, just like you - just probably on a bigger scale than you.
We were thrown into this crazy life, we didn't chose it anymore than you chose anything that's been thrust into your life, and we sure didn't have time to read any how-to books to prepare for this! We are tired, stressed, scatterbrained, & a bit crazy, but we are also amazing people who led totally different lives before becoming parents to special needs kids.
None of our kids are alike, even if they have the same diagnosis: most of us have kids with sleep issues, kids who don't "behave normally" in public settings, and kids who challenge us every. single. day. Some of us have to wrangle our children's physical needs, some of us have to wrangle our children's neurological needs, and all of us have to wrangle our own emotional needs because of our parenting status. If you'll take the time to get to know us - and our kids - much better, you'll be blessed by the amazing things you discover.
Our kids are people first. Our kids are KIDS first. The fact that you're reading all this proves that you already know this & that you probably already love us. You may also already know we - the parents (especially moms!) - are pretty slow to admit when we need help. But need it we do! So, maybe don't ASK how/when/where you can help, just show up and do it. Don't take no for an answer. It's really hard to allow others to step in & help, REALLY hard, but if you love us, please do it.