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10 Ways to Help Families Affected by Disability

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Since becoming parents to a child with disabilities we’ve connected with many other families like ours. It’s a true community who support and love one another, no questions asked. It is a truly blessed thing to have a support system like that, however, many families already have so much on our plates that helping one another is not always an option.

Those who are touched by disability and their families can have it harder than most. We have appointments galore, therapies, medication pick ups, school, IEP meetings, fighting for services, medications, and equipment. Caregivers are often struggling to make it to the end of the day without falling asleep because sleep is usually interrupted too. We usually end the day in sheer exhaustion, but keep moving because we have no other choice.

Over the years, I have been learning just how alone many families are feeling. In truth many families like ours are excluded from plans, and become pretty isolated. Getting a babysitter is much harder. Parents often can’t devote time to their relationship because their family needs them to be parents, advocates, therapists, teachers, nurses, etc. They often do not have time to be a couple.

People often say, “Call me if you need me” and genuinely mean it, and that is wonderful. We certainly appreciate the offer, but the truth is, help is almost always needed or wanted, so often families just do not ask. And sometimes we aren’t sure what we need from one moment to the next. Some of us just never think to ask because we are so consumed with our daily lives that we do not realize our load is too heavy to carry by ourselves.

I have learned over the years that many people who aren’t affected by disability do not assist — not because they don’t want to help, but because they aren’t sure how to help. There are countless ways to help families of children with disabilities. Seriously, the list is endless. I have narrowed it down to the 10 I feel would be the most helpful for our community.

1. Respite. Come and watch the kid(s) so the caregiver can catch a nap or a shower. They need their alone time too. For that matter, do something just for the caregiver; we are often put on the back burner.

2. Parents’ night out. Once you get to know the child and family and they get to know you a trust can develop. Offer to babysit for a few hours. A couple needs time to be a couple to keep their marriage strong and keep their family together.

3. Make meals. I’ll be honest, by the end of my day exhaustion has set in. Many nights I have been far too tired to cook dinner and just have cereal instead. I feed my family, of course, but I definitely do not cook every day.

4. Help at home. Come by and mow the lawn, clean the house, fix something you know they don’t have the time or funds to fix themselves, etc.

5. Socialization. This one is probably the easiest to do. Come by and get to know the entire family. Take a glimpse into that family’s world. Almost everyone needs social interaction. Just taking the time to come into our lives is truly heartwarming.

6. Inclusion. Invite the entire family! Family-friendly events are great. As I said above, finding babysitters is very difficult. Families often cannot accept an invitation at the drop of a hat. Most of the time when invitations are declined multiple times, they eventually stop coming. Try to ensure your event is an inclusion event and will include all the family. Make them a part of your life, and you a part of theirs.

7. Educate yourself. Learn about your friend’s child’s specific disability so you can better understand what we deal with and what we may need. It will also help you to better interact with our families. This one is huge to me! It shows us you care enough to learn about our family.

8. Show up. As I said above, most families do not ask for help. They may not think to ask, they aren’t sure what to ask for, or they feel it’s too much to ask of someone. Instead of telling them, “Call if you need me” (they probably won’t call) offer to show up at a set time for a specific purpose.

9. Offer assistance rather than advice. I am not being rude here, it’s just that in many cases we’ve researched our own / our loved one’s particular disability so much we could likely write our own book(s). However, if you’ve researched and found something you didn’t already know about, great! Use that knowledge to think of ways to better support the family. I promise we’ll appreciate it, not just the fact that you’ve researched but that you cared enough to apply your knowledge to our family.

And the most important! 10. See the person first, not the disability. People want and need to be seen for who they are. Please remember a disability does not define an individual; it is a part of who they are but not the entirety of their being. If you can move past stereotypes about disability, you’ll be amazed at the person you get to know!

There are countless things someone could do to assist families touched by disability. It may seem like a lot to do for one family. But doing even one of these things can be a great help to families like mine.

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Originally published: May 24, 2017
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