8 Dos and Don’ts for Friends and Family of Children With Special Needs

We are blessed to have some incredible people in our lives, but since our differently-abled addition to our family was a unique component, not only for the family at large but also for our small community, it took a great deal of time for people to act and talk in a way that helped and not hurt us. I know it wasn’t a lack of caring but simply a lack of knowledge of what they should or should not do. Here’s quick reference list of eight dos and don’ts that I think would be helpful for friends and family members of children with special needs:

Please DON’T:

1. Don’t avoid us.

I know you have most likely never dealt with anything like this before, but by pushing us off to the side, you’re not only sending the message that a person with special needs is less valuable, but you’re also robbing yourself of the richness that accompanies loving and getting to know someone “different.”

2. Don’t judge us.

I know you might think your success in different areas might make you an authority, but the truth is that until you have walked in our shoes, you have no idea of what we go through on a daily basis. Yes, your child might never have experienced a meltdown in public, but I’m almost certain you would also never have celebrated the day when your child was finally able to verbalize why he had the meltdown.

3. Don’t offer parenting suggestions.

I know you honestly want to help, but since you don’t know what we’re dealing with — something you can only know if you’re walking in our shoes — suggestions of how to prevent our child from having a meltdown or advice on how to make our child act like “other” children won’t do a bit of good and will only cause us to feel frustrated, not helped.

4. Don’t encourage others to think there’s something wrong with us.

I know you may very well be frustrated with your interactions with someone who doesn’t fit your definition of “normal.” However, when you — a person close to us — shares your concerns or observations with other people, you’re inadvertently spreading the message we should be avoided. That only hurts us. It hurts even more when we hear you saying these things or find out you said them from other people.

Instead, please DO:

1. Do show us we matter.

I know it might be hard for you to know how to do this, but believe me, if you ask us how you can best support my child with special needs and myself, I promise you we’ll have some suggestions for you. Just like everyone else, we want to know we’re valuable and that we are valued by you.

2. Do tell us you care.

I know the fact you’re in our lives means you do care, but just like everyone else, we need to hear it spoken once in a while. If you love us, please say so! I promise you that even if it doesn’t look like my child with special needs heard you or processed what you said, those words are absorbed and we’ll both know that you care.

3. Do be patient.

I know it must be frustrating when a child with special needs may not understand what you’re trying to teach or tell them. Yes, I know you have shown them something over and over, countless times, causing you to think your efforts are being wasted. I promise you that they’re not! It might take a child with special needs a little bit longer to figure something out, but when they do and are able to succeed, it’s an awesome feeling not only for them, but for the people who have helped them.

4. Do be understanding.

No, a child with special needs may not always understand what you’re saying or respond to you in a way that you might understand at first. They might also have a meltdown in public (it happens!), need to have a particular object always with them or constantly be in motion. If these things happen, they’re just a part of how they’re wired. Just like everyone else, they just need someone to understand who they are and the unique components that make them who they are.

Marybeth Mitcham the mighty.1-001

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