I do a lot consulting with parents who have children with disabilities and special needs. I find that more than giving advice on educational programs and interventions parents need counseling and emotional support. I spend a lot of my consultation time listening to the struggles that they are having and trying to be an encouragement to their emotional and spiritual needs. Our culture doesn’t let us share the deep hurts and difficulties we are having, especially if we are leaders in ministry. Many parents want to cry and share their anger and sadness but often feel that they don’t want to be vulnerable or that no one will understand anyway. Friends and family often try to help with advice on what should or should not be done, with the best of intentions, but often may say things that are hurtful, discouraging or uninformed. Parents with special needs children are often isolated. It is difficult to attend social functions, to get out for a date, or to do the daily things that need to be done for their other typical children much less be involved in ministry themselves. Other people often feel uncomfortable around them and pretty soon they stop receiving invitations.
I would exhort people who have family and friends with special needs children to encourage and lift these families up. They may not express the needs they have so here are some ways you can give practical meaningful help.
1. Realize that they may not be able to come to you so make a point of going to them.
2. They need time away so offer to babysit and learn what you can about their child’s needs.
3. No matter how many times they may cancel, turn down an invitation, or have to leave early keep inviting them.
4. Just listen.
5. Pray with them. This is so important. It is wonderful for people to say “I’m praying for you” but it is so meaningful to have someone pray right there with you.
6. Recognize their child as being made in the image of God and treat them like any other child.
7. Be patient with the child’s behvior that is out of the ordinary. Parents often feel embarrassed by this in front of others. This is part of their disability and the child can often not control it. Be helpful if a parent is dealing with difficult behavior while you are with them. If there is nothing you can do, silently pray and wait patiently until the episode is over.
8. Remember that these parents are tired, stressed, concerned for their child, embarrassed at times and feel very left out of normal life.
I hope these suggestions help you to minister to those in your lives who have children with special needs. they are a forgotten group at times so lets lift them up and “supply what is lacking”.