4 Ways You Can Encourage a Special Needs Mom
Sometimes, it’s about what not to do or say.
“On one level, I know she doesn’t even realize what she was saying, but every time she says it, it’s like a knife to my heart all the same.” That’s how Melinda describes her co-worker’s frequent use of the word “retard” as an insult. Melinda’s nine year old son Buck was born with Down Syndrome, and her co-worker knows this. Yet she’s become so desensitized to the cruel origins of this slang term, she doesn’t realize that she’s insulting someone by labeling them with something Melinda’s precious child actually suffers from—mental retardation.
“It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could not realize, in this day and age, how completely cruel and insensitive that word is when used that way,” she reflects. “But I try to be forgiving, and I’ve never confronted her and told her how it hurts me.”
Parents of children with special needs—from genetic disorders, birth defects, or other health challenges—see life through a different lens than the rest of the world. They know both the deep beauty of loving unconditionally, and the searing pain of what their child’s limitations mean to him and the family. They know how to work through fatigue to provide the constant care that a child like that often requires, and how to manage every penny to pay for the expensive outside care they need. Here are some things they tell us:
1. Some special needs parents feel socially isolated as many people avoid engaging with a handicapped person because they don’t know how to interact. As a result, the invitation to the neighborhood BBQ never comes, and the play dates that help other kids and families get to know one another never happen.
Encouragement: Include the special needs families in your world in some social activities that will allow you to get to know one another better, and bless them with a sense of community and support.
2. Another perspective is that people avoid interacting with special-needs kids and their families because they’re afraid they’ll commit a gaffe like that of Melinda’s co-worker. But special needs moms will tell you that there’s grace for the little uncomfortable moments when they know your heart is in the right place.
Encouragement: Be sensitive, but don’t allow your fear of saying the wrong thing to lead you to avoiding these kids or their parents. And if you screw up and say something that you later realize was unintentionally insensitive or potentially offensive, just apologize. Real relationships are full of little bumps in the road.
3. If moms of multiple children feel the need to be an octopus to handle their crews, just imagine how much trickier it can be if one of those kids can’t always go with the flow. Often, an extra set of hands or a back-up adult can help the maxed-out mom cope.
Encouragement: Don’t be afraid to pitch in when you see a special needs parent struggling. Offer to take her other two kids around during the school harvest festival so she can concentrate on the needs of one. Or better yet, offer to spend some time with her disabled child to give her a break. Whether it’s at a church event, or just trying to wrangle everyone to the car on a grocery run, be a blessing by helping out.
4. While most public institutions like schools have gradually made accommodations for special needs children and adults, there are some places where no such arrangements exist. If a special needs child needs a “helper” (much like a school aide) to be able to participate in Sunday School, Scouts, or other extracurricular activities, take note.
Encouragement: Find out if your church has a plan for helping the parents of disabled kids participate. If not, pray about becoming a volunteer or helping to coordinate a program to facilitate some special accommodations for their needs.
The most important thing to remember is that you have more in common with these families than you think, and engaging with them and learning how to love and support them on their unique parenting journey will bless you as much as it will bless them.
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