How to Help a Parent with a Special Needs Child

Parents hiking with their special needs child and his sibling.

Contributed by Dawn Allcot

Having a special needs child offers special blessings, along with special challenges. If you’ve been watching a friend struggle with a child with autism, Down’s Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy or any other condition, you may be unsure how to help.

Guess what? Most parents of special needs children could use the same kind of help as other parents:  a healthy meal delivered to lighten their weekday cooking load, daily housekeeping, weekly grocery delivery, or just an ear to listen when they need a friend.

Here are some other ways you can lighten the load for your friend:


Help Her With Her Other Children
If you’re extremely close with your friend, why not offer to take her other children out for the day? Go to the movies, a children’s play place, or even your home where you can look after them in a controlled environment. You might also help with other tasks related to her children. For instance, play “mom’s taxi” for an afternoon or offer homework help. These gestures give your friend precious one-on-one time with her special needs child.


Be Mommy’s Helper for a Few Hours
While you may not be prepared to babysit a special needs child, you can come over and keep her child entertained so she can get a few things done. Whether she wants to catch up on housework or just take a bath and read, this “me time” might be the only kind she’s had in a while.


Learn to Speak Their Language
Find out as much as you can about their child’s diagnosis. Learning the specific clinical language that goes along with any diagnosis will make it easier for your friend to talk to you about her challenges.

Bec Oakley, at the website, says, “Autism comes with its own vocabulary, and learning what the words mean will help you take a big step into your friends’ new world. Having people around them who understand (without them having to explain) will make them feel supported too.”

The same goes for any diagnosis. Your friend probably gets tired of answering constant questions about her child – digging up the basic information yourself allows you to be more supportive.

By the same token, if your friend doesn’t want to discuss her special needs child, don’t push. Your friend is still the same person you’ve always known and parenting a special needs child is just one aspect (albeit a big one) of her life. It’s nice to kick back, relax, and talk about other things with friends once in a while.


Make Your Home Safe for a Special Needs Child
Life with a special needs child isn’t always full of play dates or visits to the park with other moms. If you have children of the same age, inviting your friend and her child over to play will mean a lot. If you don’t, you can still make your home a safe haven for your friend and her special needs child. Stock your cabinets with their favorite foods, ask about their favorite DVDs, and any special requirements such as hand supports or door locks that will help your friend relax during a visit to your home.


Ask What You Can Do
It’s impossible to know what your friend needs unless you’ve been in their shoes. And, even then, every special needs child is different. The best way to know how to help a friend is to ask. If she’s not forthcoming, be sure to make a few suggestions – it could be anything from picking up a specialty coffee as a treat to cleaning her house with all-natural products.


Get Others Involved
By starting a Lotsa Helping Hands community for your friend, you can enlist the help of others. Schedule meal deliveries, rides, or coordinate an awareness event or fundraiser to give your friend consistent help and support with her special needs child.