Imagine, if you will, the joy that comes when a mom and dad find out that they are expecting a new child. Whether through pregnancy and birth or through the joy of adoption, the joy of such a blessing is overwhelming. Beyond measure, a true thrill to the heart.
Now imagine, if you will, that soon after learning of the impending child, they also learn that there may be a problem, whether physical, mental or developmental. How do you imagine, that feels? Could it be a mixture of both joy and pain? Is it perhaps sorrow and elation that joins together leaving confusion in the soul? Do you perceive that their could be worry, wonder and amazement?
Also imagine what the day of delivery might be like.
Parenting is joyous, but also challenging even for children born with no special need. Now consider the difficulties which may lie ahead for a parent with a special needs child. It will look different for each family. There most likely will be financial struggles, emotional struggles, and feelings of isolation. The realities of what the family is facing can put a strain on the marriage, a strain that far too often leads to separation or divorce.
The feelings can be overwhelming and the work that follows surely is so. From doctors appointments, special need therapies such as speech, occupational, fine and gross motor development, to vision care. Perhaps something as simple as feeding the child takes on a whole new meaning when parents are learning how to tube feed or faces a lifetime of diaper changes.
The idea that no one understands is certainly understandable. The idea that none helps, is, well, it’s sad beyond measure, especially for those who are members of the Lord’s body.
We are called to love one another, John 13:34-35. We are called to do unto others, Luke 6:31. We are called to show compassion, kindness, and longsuffering, Colossians 3:12. We are to bear one another’s burdens thus, fulfilling the law of Christ, Galatians 6:2.
If there are those among us who are feeling isolated, cast off, and without help or care, then we are failing to uphold the body of Christ, we are failing to fulfill the law of Christ.
“…Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.” Matthew 25:45 ASV
We must look past our own comfort and see to the needs and hearts of others. No special need parent in the Lord’s church should ever feel as if they have no help, no one to care, or that they aren’t needed, or a part of the Lord’s body.
But, often, too often, this is the case. Why? Most likely it is because we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to help or what is needed. But, that is simply an excuse because we must step outside of our own comforts and ask, show love, compassion and a listening ear, both to the parents and the child.
15 Ways to Help a Special Needs Family
- Offer a listening ear. It may take some time before you will find they are willing to open up. It might seem as if they don’t want your listening ear. But, it’s just because of the hurt involved. Ask, how things are going, offer to pray for, or about a specific situation. Build up a friendship over time that instills in their heart that you are offering because YOU CARE, not out of duty.
- Ask your sister over for coffee, or a dessert or anything that let’s her have a moment away. She may say no, but keep offering, keep asking.
- Call her up and say, “I’m bringing over dinner for your family tonight.” Don’t take no for an answer. Simply say, I know that you are busy and life can be extremely hectic for you. Please, let me help.
- Offer childcare. With all of the appointments a special needs family must undertake, sometimes it’s difficult to find childcare of the other children in the family, yet it’s hard to take them all along to appointments. Be ready, willing and able to provide for this need. Offer the option, repeat often until she trusts that you mean it.
- Make appropriate accommodations for the special needs child in Bible Classes. First, you need to ask the parent what IS appropriate, and you need to understand that it might not be the easiest solution. THEY know their child best and a congregation that is insistent on doing it their way is not going to go far in making the family feel welcome within the body.
- Organize disability Sensitivity Training within the congregation. This can go a long way in helping a family see that they are welcome, and that you want them to be surrounded by compassionate members.
- Offer Encouraging Words. With isolation comes the feeling of being under a microscope. A special needs mom can feel as if they are always being watched to see how they handle difficult situations. But you can be an encouragement to her. Tell her she’s doing a great job, or that you admire her ability to multitask. Let the law of kindness always be on your lips, Proverbs 3:26.
- Offer to do laundry. Just taking home 1 or 2 loads a week can dramatically ease the burden for these overly burdened homemakers.
- Invite her and the kids over for a playdate. You would be incredibly surprised to discover how few times this happens, don’t overlook this family when planning events for the children in the congregation.
- Invite her to Gatherings. Don’t overlook this mom when you gather with other friends. Even if she isn’t able to be there, she needs to know she is welcome, that you WANT her to join you. Be understanding if she can’t make it, and be welcoming when she makes arrangements to make it.
- Offer to Learn How to Take Care of Her Child. It might be scary to offer to learn how tube feed a child. But imagine what it was like for her the first time, and she had no choice. She also may NEVER have a chance to spend time alone with her husband because no one is willing to help her in this matter. Learning this task, or others like it, can then allow you to provide her with respite care, date nights, her own doctors appointments, or perhaps just the ability to sit down during a fellowship meal and eat.
- Surprise her! Make arrangements with her husband, or her mom, then take her out for a dinner, or pedicure, or a shopping trip to buy her a little something special, a scarf of earrings. Let it be your treat.
- Offer to Take the Kids for a Weekend. She needs sleep, a shower, and time alone with her husband. See #11.
- Simply Ask How She Is. You’d be so surprised to find that she is rarely, if ever, asked about her own needs.
- Last, but not least, Be Her Friend. Truly, be a friend to her. She probably doesn’t have a single one. They probably abandoned her shortly after her child came into her family. Don’t do this out of duty, but out of a heart that truly loves your sister in the Lord. Jesus Christ was compassionate, Matthew 14:14, we too should have a heart of compassion for those who are in need.
“And one of the multitude answered him, Teacher, I brought unto thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever it taketh him, it dasheth him down: and he foameth, and grindeth his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they were not able. he answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him grievously; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long time is it since this hath come unto him? And he said, From a child And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth. Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. And when Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And having cried out, and torn him much, he came out: and the boy became as one dead; insomuch that the more part said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up; and he arose.” Mark 9:17-27 ASV.
While we can’t offer physical healing to our brothers and sisters in Christ for their child. We can offer them compassion, love, and kindness which can heal broken hearts, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.
Resources for Families with Special Needs
This post written by Team Member: Renée