Do you remember when you first heard your child’s diagnosis?
You probably remember it as well as you remember key national events or even the birth of your child.
How did you feel? Scared? Confused? Relieved? Unsure? Alone?
Your crazy schedule, juggling appointments, numerous medications, and multiple therapies seem like the “normal everyday” to you now. But, how overwhelming was it all when this journey first began?
That’s what we can remember when we meet a parent who has just donned the challenging and amazing title of “special needs parent.”
(And if you are just starting this journey, read on! We hope this community can help!)
What Do New Special Needs Parents Need?
Every family’s situation is a little different, of course. But, many special needs families have common needs, as well. When first embarking on this journey, as “normal” takes an entirely new form, new special needs parents often need:
- practical help,
- assurance that this is not their “fault,”
- non-judgmental love.
(Most of us “veteran” special needs families still need all of this, too, actually!)
7 Practical Ways to Help and Encourage New Special Needs Parents
Take a look at that list above again. What are physical, emotional, and spiritual ways to help that family?
If you are a special needs family yourself, you might have specific things that helped you that you can now reciprocate for a new family. If you know of friends or extended family who are just beginning a journey of supporting a new parents of a child with special needs, feel free to share this post with them!
Practical help can come in many forms:
- Please keep the family on your regular prayer list. Prayers provide community.
- If the parents responds to hugs, give him/her a big hug for comfort when you see each other!
- Offer to come clean, drop off groceries, watch the kids so the parents can take a walk/run, and other errands.
- If you do want to watch over a child with special needs, please ask and listen to any and all instructions from the parent. What may seem like a small detail to you might have bigger effects than realized. (And, if you ask if you can babysit a child and the parent declines? Please don’t take it personally! There could be a myriad of reasons why.)
- For many special needs families, money is an issue. Some insurance companies are helpful, some are not. Families may have to pay for therapies completely out of pocket, or still have to pay for copays. If a child has multiple therapies a week, even copays add up quickly! Plus, copays for numerous doctor visits, medications, etc. It’s taken me years to understand that other people have extra in their budget and enjoy giving financially. If you’re a family in that situation and you know money would help, give. If you’re in a special needs family and someone gifts you with funds, they likely want to! It’s okay to accept it and not feel like you’re burdening anyone. (Alternatively, if you know of an agency/charity that can help, share information.)
- Help a new parent of a child with special needs see the positive. Sometime we get so down on ourselves and issues that we feel we’re failing in every aspect of life. Point out the good things (with honesty) and marvel together.
- If you’re already are a special needs parent, sometimes we forget that we still don’t know all the right choices for every special need. Just because one child with Down Syndrome responds a certain way to an outing doesn’t mean another will. Just because one child with aspiration could still eat juicy watermelon doesn’t mean another can without the watermelon being pureed and thickened. Listen and really get to know the family.
For those without special needs experience (and a reminder for those of us who have experience):
Even more important: ask. Other than the basics above (which are usually helpful), ask what a family needs. And, then? Understand. If a parent says their child cannot have greasy foods, they likely know from experience that the child should not consume them. If parents say they need to protect bedtime, they likely know from experience what happens if their child doesn’t get enough sleep (and what happens if they do!).
When you were a newly became a parent of a child with special needs, what did you need the most? How have some of your experiences helped another family? What would you add to this list?
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