Beyond Empathy: How to Help Parents of a Child with a Disability
Recently, I came across an article that caught my attention written by Sandra Werle—a parent with a disabled child. She stressed about the endless number of times people have come up to her and innocently said, “I don’t know how you do it.”
Sandra was usually the person who helped others and now she was the one who needed help—making her feel vulnerable and at times uncomfortable. She mentioned that people drifted out of her life as they were unaware of how to support her. They sympathised, but weren't sure how to empathise with her situation.
If you have been wondering how to empathetically assist and help a parent of a child with disabilities or special needs, it isn’t as complicated as it seems.
Here are 10 simple ways you can help
1. Show up
Most of the time parents of a child with a disability or special needs are overwhelmed and often do not know how to ask for guidance or assistance from others. Let them know you are available to help them in whatever way you can. If you prefer doing, then help them get stuff done when they require it. If you prefer listening, then wholeheartedly hear them out and give them support and love. Whatever or whichever way you choose to help, just ensure you show up.
2. Educate yourself
Take a little initiative to learn about different disabilities. There is vast information that is very easily accessible on various platforms. Parents would be happy to discuss their child’s condition with someone who is well aware about the disability. These parents will appreciate your efforts to be inclusive. The more you learn about the child’s disability, the more you can help.
3. Include them in activities
It is common for parents with a disabled child to feel isolated and alienated. You can help by finding different ways to include them in ordinary activities in your lives. Be inclusive and make sure they are not alone in their journey.
4. Be a friend
Many parents do not want “special friendship” treatments—they just desire ordinary friendships where they can share their greatest fears, joys, hopes, and be brutally honest. Despite their challenges, they still appreciate and respect yours. They want to have a friend and be a friend.
5. Create fun
Being a parent with a disabled or special-needs child has way too much seriousness and stress. They would love nothing more than to still be able to laugh at a good joke. Tell them some funny stories, take them to comedy shows, and help them find humour in small things so they can forget the heaviness. Bring back their joy!
6. Be understanding and extend grace
Although these parents love being included in things, there would be times where you would need to make exceptions for them. Being a parent with a disabled or special-needs child is often very unpredictable. It can cause them to be late to meet-ups, to cancel suddenly, or show up looking a bit messy. They would appreciate it if you could be understanding and compassionate.
7. Don’t ignore their needs
Parents of disabled or special-needs children often focus more on their child more than anything else, which means most of the time it’s their only identity. You could help them by making sure they participate in activities that can help care for them, so they don’t lose themselves.
8. Help them get connections to resources
Very often, our systems fail to tell families and parents what is available and how to get what they require. If you know friends or other parents of a child with a disability or special needs, ensure they are updated and are aware of the many resources, information, support, connections, and hope that are provided.
9. Honour their uniqueness and strength
Acknowledge the differences of these parenting situations as they are different from the norm. They would appreciate it if you could affirm their strengths and there would be a lot they could teach you about parenting as well.
10. Be their champion
They usually do not need more advice or suggestions, and definitely not pity or judgement. What they actually need and desire is to be encouraged, built up, and reminded that they matter. They are encouraged that you are alongside them when times are rough.
This is the fifth part of a series of articles on empathy. The next article will be up next Thursday, so watch this space!
For more information about our award-winning, globally-recognised empathy workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp +6018 296 8828. Photo by Karolina Graboswka on Pexel.