Being a parent to a child with special needs is something you truly don’t understand unless you walk through it. It can be lonely. It can be draining. It can also be completely rewarding. Not everyone will be in a caregiving role with a child who has special needs. But, speaking from experience, community is vital.
Here are a few ways to support your friend that has a child with special needs:
Honor their language.
One main theme in the special needs community is that everyone aligns with something different when it comes to language + labeling. And sometimes those differences can appear subtle, but they are distinct. For example, some people use language like, “my son who has autism,” while others use language like, “my autistic son.”
The important thing when it comes to supporting your friend is to mirror their language and their child’s language. Pay attention to language + labels they use and then use them yourself. If you are ever unsure…just ask them! Asking the question shows you want to respect their child and that means the world to so many parents.
Be a safe space.
Being the parent of a child with special needs is an emotional rollercoaster most of the time. Some days feel normal. Some days feel impossible to conquer. Be a safe space. Be a safe space for the venting, the stories shared, the emotions expressed. Listen, acknowledge, affirm, and please please please do not judge. Your friend loves their child so very much.
Ask about their other children.
One thing that has come up a lot in our family is that it is so special to me when people ask about our other kids. Whether it be from the time it takes to care for physical needs of their sibling, the emotional/mental energy poured into therapies, figuring out how to handle healthy boundaries, etc.
The other kids in the family can tend to be in a bit of a shadow many days, but siblings of special needs kids are the unsung heroes. Your friend probably knows that their other kids will be more compassionate and empathetic humans because of their sibling, but she probably also struggles with feeling like she is falling short many days with them. Ask about them. Ask for updates on them. Praise the things they are doing. It will mean the world.
Ask how you can help.
It is often the small things that feel like a breath of fresh air. Drop off a coffee. Text her a funny meme. Offer to sit at the house once kids are in bed so she can go to a late dinner. Ask her out for a girls night. In some seasons it may look like dropping off dinner. And in others it may be funny gifs in a text thread. There is no right or wrong answer, so asking is so helpful!
The fact that you read through these proves that you are a kind person and a loving friend. Thank you for how you support your friend who has a child with special needs! I hope these tips help you come alongside them in their journey even more.