When parents are informed that their child may have special needs, is hard to know how to offer support to them. As an experienced parent of an older child with a disability, or part of the family, friend or community member; please never forget the importance of Empathy.
Many times people ask “How can I help?” For me, there is only one answer: BE EMPATHETIC.
These are 6 ways to support a friend whose child was born or diagnosed with special needs
LISTEN 1 of 6
- Stop talking about your own feelings or fears. LISTEN. Listen without saying a word. Don't judge. Don't ask the other person to stop crying or to start crying. Everyone is different and the important thing to understand is that pain and concern can be demonstrated in many different ways. Offer your shoulder with your mouth closed.
DON’T COMPARE 2 of 6
- Don't compare. Don't talk about someone else's child. Don't limit but don't create false expectations. There may or may not come a time when this is appropriate to let it go and just keep listening.
DO SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR THE FAMILY 3 of 6
- Do something special for the family. Bring them their favorite food or run some household errands without asking. Don't give up because they said they don't need anything right now. Follow your instincts and find something they need done and do it. Be gentle, be caring, be proactive.
DON’T DISCUSS THE PARENTS’ FEELING 4 of 6
- Don't discuss the parents' feelings. Emotions are fragile. Time is sometimes your best ally to allow for reflection and to understanding. Parents may be scared, concerned or just overwhelmed. Give them time.
CREATE A POSITIVE SUPPORT GROUP 5 of 6
- Create a positive support group. Take turns with friends and family members to closely watch the evolution of your loved ones. Don't be pushy. Be there quietly with positive support.
SAVE YOUR TEARS 6 of 6
- Save your tears. Give out smiles and laughs generously. Do your best to offer joy and hope. Believe and remind that person how great she is and how awesome she will be, no matter what challenges she may face.
When something life altering like this occurs to us, there is always an empathetic someone we remember and give thanks to later. An angel, that took the time to listen and to hold our hands in the toughest times of our lives. My angel of empathy is Susan Anderson, a woman who guided me through uncertainty and despair with love, support, and the listening ears I needed. Who was yours? Have you been supportive to others?