7 Ways to Help Parents of Children With Special Needs

By: Amanda, Andrea, Gretchen and Kathleen — four parents of children with special needs.

A mother and child with special needs
Amanda and Kaylee


As you go about your daily living, you’re bound to come into contact with one or more parents who have a child with special needs. And although many of those parents count their child as one of their biggest blessings in life, it doesn’t mean things are easy or that they don’t need support. In fact, despite their silent resilience, most parents would be over the moon excited for any and all help.

Gretchen and Blake
Gretchen and Blake

The following are a few simple ways you can help a parent of a child with special needs.

Listen.

When we share stories with you, it is imperative you listen. We mean really listen without judgment, without trying to tell us the best way to parent and without overlooking the difficulties we face. People are quick to say, “Yeah, that’s tough,” and move on. But in reality, empathy is more valuable to us. Try to step into our story and sit with us, side by side.

Choose your words wisely.

Never forget that your words have power. The most common comment we hear is something along the lines of, “God/the universe/life only gives special kids to special parents.” In our opinion, that’s not true. A genetic condition and/or event occurred for our child to have a special need. Instead of saying the above, consider saying something like, “I hope God/the universe/life gives you the strength you need to endure this journey. How can I support you?”

Offer beside support at the hospital.

Parents who have kids with special needs often spend a great deal of time in the hospital. It is difficult to leave your child’s bedside, especially when you know no one else is there to take your place. Consider offering to step in and sit by the bedside of a child. Oftentimes, we just need to grab lunch, spend time with our other children or do a load of laundry so we have clean clothes to wear. A few moments of uninterrupted time are priceless to a parent of a child with special needs.

Offer respite care.

Short-term relief for parents of children with special needs is BIG. Consider becoming a respite care provider. This allows parents to take a much-needed break. We assure you this isn’t for some extravagant getaway. We just crave the opportunity to run errands or have some self-care time. It can be for a few hours, the afternoon or more depending on the need.

Kathleen and Julia
Kathleen and Juliana

Advocate.

Parents of children with special needs spend a great deal of time advocating for their children. When we advocate on local, state and federal levels, stand beside us and advocate with us. Support national advocacy groups like the Special Olympics or Easterseals, or look for ones in your local community. There are so many groups in need of support.

Avoid staring.

Some children who have special needs may have outbursts, look different or make unusual sounds. This can invoke “the stare.” Nothing is more frustrating and deflating than trying to meet the needs of your child with a crowd of onlookers. Sure, it makes sense to look to see what’s happening, but then remember to either offer help or walk away. A great way to offer help is to simply say, “How can I help you?” There may not be a way for you to help, but that’s okay. Just making an offer can make all the difference.

Teach your children about individuals with disabilities.

We can always tell when someone has no knowledge of individuals with special needs. How? Because they are the ones staring or telling their kids to get away from our children. As parents of children with special needs, we spend a great deal of time teaching our children social skills. A simple way to help your child avoid staring is to teach them to smile and say, “Hi.” It helps get a conversation going and teaches them that children/people with disabilities are human just like them. Children with special needs like many of the same things your child does. They can even bond over them and become good friends. It really is as simple as smiling and saying, “Hi.”


Next Steps and Useful Resources

 

About the writers

Amanda has two daughters Kaylee and Alyssa. Since birth, her youngest daughter Kaylee has had an extensive team of doctors and therapists at MU Health Care, who keep her healthy and living her best life. Amanda is the author of "An Alphabet of Blessings: Finding Joy in a Down Syndrome Diagnosis" and "Navigating the Hills and Valleys: Words of Encouragement for NICU Parents." Amanda believes it is important to choose joy and look for the blessings in life.

Andrea has been a resident of Moberly, Missouri and has worked in Columbia, Missouri most of her life. Her two children were both patients of MU Health Care’s NICU. Andrea believes every parent deserves support, resources and access to the right care, and wants to help every parent have a voice in what’s right for their children and the will to educate others on what it’s like to have a child with special needs.

Gretchen is a full-time mom and part-time outreach program coordinator in volunteer services at MU Health Care. Gretchen’s son was born at MU Health Care 18 years ago and the family has lived in Columbia for over 10 years. Gretchen enjoys being a resource for other parents and believes the more information a parent has, the better equipped they will be to help their child.

Novelist and composer Kathleen is mother to three active boys (read: always breaking something) and one chromosomally gifted daughter (Down syndrome: more alike than different!). Her novel, A Song for the Road, debuted in May 2021.

Read more stories like this

Real Talk