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15 Creative Ways to Support Parents of Kids With Disabilities

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It is not unusual for parents of kids with disabilities or other medical needs to hear, “Let me know how I can help you.” Yet the offer usually doesn’t lead to results — because honestly, chances are we are not going to initiate. It would feel weird to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, remember you said to let you know what I need? What about you go grocery shopping for me?”

Truth be told, I have friends who have picked up the phone and called those who have offered, but instead of help, they receive a version of, “I m so sorry, my son has a soccer game so I cannot help this time.” Other offers, such as providing respite, often come with unspoken limits.

The best help, when people genuinely want to offer support, is to be specific as to what type of help is being offered and when. So rather than saying, “Let me know how I can help,” your offer should sound more like, “I have Thursday morning open. Could you use hep with one of the kids, or do you need someone to help fold laundry?” Knowing what a friend is willing to do and when they can do it makes all the difference.

Here are some creative ways you can support parents of children with disabilities or other medical needs:

1. Help with laundry.

I had a friend who helped me tackle laundry. We set up a day, and the day before she texted me with a reminder: “Put in a load in your washer.” An hour later she texted me to remind me to get the clothes in the dryer and to get another load going. On “laundry day” we dumped all the clothes on my bed. She folded, and I sorted. She did this enough times she eventually learned who the clothes belonged to and where they needed to go. While we folded, I got to talk and connect with a friend.

2. Grocery shopping.

Having someone willing to do a grocery trip for me would be a time saver! I am not particularly fond of grocery shopping, so texting my grocery list to a friend and having them deliver would be quite helpful, especially if they stay and help me put groceries away. Again, it is an opportunity to spend some time with a friend. With stores offering options to buy online for a car pickup, it makes it even easier for a friend to run to the store to pick up an order.

3. Mowing or snow removal.

When your schedule consists of several therapy appointments a week or doctor visits, not having to worry about mowing or snow removal is a true gift. Also, you don’t need to set that up in advance. You can always show up and do it!

4. Planting flowers.

I know of a mom who had a friend call and ask if her family could come and plant spring flowers around the home. The next day, the friend and her two kids showed up with several beautiful flowers they planted in their front lawn and in their back yard. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was such a touching gesture. Every time this mom looked outside her window, she had a beautiful reminder that someone cared enough to make it happen when she did not have the time.

5. Coffee delivery.

A friend of mine recently called and said, “I am in your area, what do you want from Starbucks?” That simple ask included not only a much appreciated drink but a few minutes of connection with a friend. I also have friends who have unexpectedly heard their doorbell and found a friend who handed them a coffee: “I know you are busy, but I remembered this is your favorite drink. I cannot stay, but I’m thinking about you.” That small gesture goes a long way!

6. Offer rides for soccer practice or dance class.

Having one less trip to worry about makes a difference, especially if taking a child to a music class, for example, means everyone has to ride along. If you are already driving kids around, offer a ride. It will be much appreciated.

7. Offer to babysit siblings.

Sometimes the siblings end up attending all therapy and medical appointments. It can be tiring. Having someone offer to babysit means the kids can have a playdate or time at home without having to sit in waiting rooms or therapy offices. Mighty reader Raena SW said, “Watching my healthy child when the other is sick or having a heavy week in therapy/appointments, etc. is priceless.”

8. Bring a home-cooked meal.

You know one of the most tiring, yet common questions can be, “What’s for dinner?” When you come home from a long day of appointments, not having to worry about that question makes a big difference. It does not have to be elaborate. Also, make sure to include options the child will eat, which might be as simple as bringing a lasagna and a PB&J on the side because that is all your friend’s child enjoys.

9. Gift cards.

Gifts cards are always helpful. Gas cards, restaurant cards, grocery cards, coffee cards. No matter what gift card you give, it will be appreciated. Make sure to include an encouraging note with your gift card.

10. Offer to join in medical or therapy appointments.

Often times I end up going to appointments by myself, and I usually wish there was someone else with me as I sit in waiting rooms or meet with doctors. Other people can sometimes think of questions I would not think to ask. Having an extra set of hands can also be quite helpful. Mighty reader Randi W. said, “Accompany me to his appointments or procedures. It’s tough sometimes going alone, so having company would really lift my spirits.”

11. Respite.

This is perhaps one of the greatest needs for most parents. Providing respite also means being willing to get to know the child and their needs. Respite provides a much needed break for parents to recharge and take a break.

12. Pick up the phone.

Sometimes, making a phone call to see how your friend is doing provides the emotional support needed to know someone else cares and is thinking about you. Ask how your friend is doing. Ask how their child is doing. Be a friend who is willing to listen and who cares enough to pick up the phone.

13. Offer to research whatever is needed.

There was a time when my best friend’s daughter was given the possibility of two life-threatening diagnoses. As soon as she told me, I began researching both. I have also called a friend and asked her, “Have you heard about…” and I know as soon as I ask, she will be researching for me and sending me links and information. We need friends like these, willing to help us find the latest research, case studies or treatments when applicable.

14. Learn about the diagnosis.

I have two children with disabilities that are perhaps considered “common.” Yet, we often find people who are vastly ignorant about these conditions and may only know stereotypes. Friends who are willing to learn from trusted and accurate sources assure me they are on our side and they want to support us. Their willingness to learn means they stand with us, side-by-side, and that makes all the difference. It also makes taking about the diagnosis and challenges a lot easier if I do not have to explain all the details.

15. Put together a care package.

When my daughter had one of her surgeries, both my husband and I received care packages. The care packages included candy bars, deodorant, mints, gift cards, books, chapstick, notepads, pens, water bottles. Both my husband and I were thankful for the thoughtfulness of the gifts. I personally don’t know anyone who does not appreciate a care package. You can include your friend’s favorite things.

What would you add? What are creative ways you can support a parent of kids with disabilities? Let us know in the comments.

Getty image by Archv

Originally published: April 25, 2018
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