Updated: Apr 5, 2019
Dear Friends and Family,
I know being a parent is no easy job. It is a 24-hour, full-time job requiring you to constantly supervise your child’s mental and physical well-being. And that does not include your actual job that provides the financial means for you to give the best to your children.
When unexpected things happen, such as your child falling sick, it becomes impossible to juggle all those commitments with finesse. Sometimes, you succeed in clumsily juggling it until a chaotic situation is over, but other times you end up dropping the ball in one aspect or another.
As a parent, you will understand the hardships of parenthood. All those nights you were woken up from sleep because your baby was crying; the events and get-togethers you can no longer entertain because your life is now preoccupied with taking care of a small life; and the worrying that comes along with them, designed to accompany you for life.
If all that feels like a heavy weight on your shoulders, can you imagine how it feels like to be a parent to children with special needs?
While you might worry about your children mixing with bad company, doing poorly in school, or being unable to find a good job in the future, you’ll likely never worry about if they are able to live independently on their own in the future.
You don’t have to worry if they know how to use the public transport to get to where they need to be or ask for directions to the nearest toilet. These are fundamental skills that most people take for granted. Special needs children, however, may find these to be immense challenges. As a result, parents to special needs children are faced with the terrifying worry of, “who will take care of them if I’m not here?”
Today, my article isn’t about these parents. Instead, I’m hoping to reach out to you, someone who is nearby; perhaps a friend, relative, or acquaintance. In your already busy life, how can you reach out to these parents of special needs children?
1. Talk with them as you would with any friend.
Call them up, try to arrange for meet-ups, and talk to them like you would with any friend. Exchange grouses and funny stories about your children instead of avoiding the topic. If you have no children of your own, ask about theirs and how they have been doing. Be interested! If you feel that you are unable to help them out in other ways, just be a friend to them! Your emotional support will surely be appreciated.
2. Stay connected.
With the advances in technology now, there are many ways of staying connected. You can call, message, and use social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram to contact them. Asking a simple, “how are you?” can let them know that they are not alone in their struggles.
3. Be flexible.
If trying to arrange a meet-up with them, take into consideration their needs and try to accommodate where you can. For eg. Visiting each other’s houses instead of going out so they can keep an eye on their children more easily; going to a location nearer or more familiar for them. Take the initiative to make an offer rather than wait for them to reach out so they don’t feel bad about “putting you out”. Also, try to be understanding if they, on occasion, “flake out” on a scheduled outing with you because their special needs child was having a particularly bad day.
4. Encourage your child to play with theirs.
If you are a parent yourself and have children, consider arranging playdates for them. Children with autism are often eager to interact socially but lack the skills to do so. Having more opportunities to practice will help them grow their social skills. In addition, this may benefit your child! By allowing your children to interact with children with special needs, you can teach your child to be kinder and more patient with others different from them. By modelling patience and kindness in treating others, your child would surely grow to become a wonderful person.
5. Make the effort to read up about children with special needs.
Having some background information about autism or other special needs would likely help you empathise better with why special needs children behave the way they do. Take 5 minutes to read the article they shared on Facebook or other platforms. Their parents would likely appreciate your efforts to learn more about the difficulties their children face. Rather than “special needs”, perhaps another way of putting it is “different needs”.
6. Interact with the child with special needs.
Treat their children like you would any child you meet. This would help them get accustomed to meeting new people and learning social conventions. Even brief interactions when meeting on the streets or visiting their place is a step forward in helping the child integrate with society.
7. Offer help in small ways, where you can.
Having the awareness to buy snacks which fit the dietary needs of their children, inviting the child over to play for a few hours (granted both parties are familiar and comfortable enough to do so) so that the parents could have some time to relax, sharing informative articles of special needs children on social media platforms, and countless other little ways could mean the world to these parents.
8. Don’t judge.
If a child with special needs fail to respond to you as required by social convention, or if you see them having a meltdown, crying and wailing at the top of their lungs, try not to jump to hasty conclusions about them or their parents. Rather than what you may be assuming, they may be experiencing a sensory overload, finding it hard to focus, or are just shy with new people.
9. Finally, be kind.
I know. It is easy to feel uncomfortable when you encounter the unknown. But you don’t have to be unkind. You have a choice. When you see an individual with special needs flapping their hands, or seemingly making conversation with the air around them, be kind. There is no need to stare or glare at them. If they are ordering food at a stall and are having a hard time, try your best to be patient. Keep in mind that these individuals face a tough enough challenge managing their lives in our rapid world, a world that they too have a rightful place in. If it were your child, you would hope for society to be kinder to them too.
All in all, be a friend to these parents. Where you can, reach out to them and let them know they are in your thoughts. We all face unique challenges in our lives. In our tough times, wouldn’t we hope for someone to reach out to us or someone to talk to?
You can be that someone, and our world would surely be on it's way to becoming a better place.
Please help to share this note and reach out to someone you know today.
Senior Behavioral Therapist
Healis Autism Centre