Left out. Judged. Misunderstood. Avoided. Lonely.
In my work as a school social worker and autism specialist, I often hear these words from parents of children with autism or other special needs when I ask about their experiences in the community. Fortunately, I also hear many heartwarming stories about ways that families have gone out of their way to make children and families in this situation feel welcome.
If you have a special needs child, you can find resources to help your family here. If you want to impact the lives of a special needs family, we’ve got some ideas for you below.
3 Ways to Support Families With Special Needs Kids
Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with special needs is even harder. Fortunately there are things that all of us can do to help bridge this gap. These are my top 3 suggestions for helping to support families with special needs.
1 – Look Beyond the Disability
I am listing this one first because I think it is the most important! Please notice that I did not say IGNORE the disability. But look beyond it.
Depending on the level of severity, when a child has special needs, that can be the only thing people see. But every child is so much more than that. See them for their interests, their talents, their desire to be included. None of us wants to be known as just one thing. If your child has a classmate with special needs (most of them probably do), encourage your child to talk with you about it. Encourage your child to get to know him or her just like they do with other classmates.
2 – Set the Example of Acceptance
This one goes hand in hand with my first suggestion. Kids take the lead of their parents… for better or for worse. Kids are not born to be judgmental. Kids are not born thinking they should only have friends who look and act like them.
When we as parents set an example of acceptance, our kids will follow.
Make an effort to read books that include characters with different disabilities. This website offers some great book suggestions: Children’s books about special needs. When you see someone in the store who appears “different,” smile and say hi (really, shouldn’t we be doing this with all people?). When there is a character in a movie or television show who has autism or other special needs, talk about it.
Take advantage of those day to day opportunities to talk with your child about what you notice about a person, or what might be difficult for that person.
3 – Provide Opportunities
Make an effort to connect with other families. During class parties or other school events, introduce yourself to other parents in your child’s class. If you meet the parent(s) of a child with autism or other special needs, ask if he or she might like to play with your son or daughter.
It is way too easy to just assume that a child won’t want to or won’t be able to participate in “normal” activities. There is no way to know unless you ask.
This mom of a little guy with autism wrote about her experience with her son being invited to a classmate’s birthday party here: Party Invitation. If that doesn’t make you want to make an effort to reach out, nothing will!