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30 Ways to Help a Special Needs Family

April is Autism Awareness Month. While I am thankful for the awareness and understanding such a month can bring, I know autism is not the only special need around.

Five years ago I hosted a month-long series for Autism Awareness Month. One feature was a daily idea of how to help special needs families. Some of these ideas were comments left by others when I posed the question. I tried to keep this list simple and affordable. Use these ideas to brighten someone’s day.

Usually there are two things that are stretched for special needs families–time and money. Think about this as you seek to encourage these families.

  1. Listen. Really listen when your friend talks to you about what things are like for her. There is a good chance there aren’t many people that take the time to hear how she feels about all the doctor’s appointments, the inability to catch up with life at home, or her need to find a way to get money for her daughter’s wheelchair. A little good listening goes a long way!
  2. Get together for a play date. Stress that you don’t care what your friend’s house looks like. You are simply coming over for the company.
  3. Drop off a bag of staple groceries or household necessities. When medical bills pile up and gas expenses increase to get to those appointments, sometimes a family simply needs someone to give them food or toilet paper so they don’t have to buy it.
  4. Don’t be offended if a child doesn’t want to shake hands or high-five. They may not like touch. Some of our children have hyper-sensitive senses and touch can be uncomfortable, painful, and scary to them.
  5. If a child has such great needs that his parent cannot leave the home, offer to come over and watch the child at home. This will let the parent rest in another room or get some things done around the house.
  6. Leave the handicap stall free in public restrooms. It’s needed in emergencies, and there may be an emergency while you’re in there!
  7. Tell a special needs parent that they’re doing a good job. It will bless them more than you know.
  8. Mail a funny card. A little laughter can be a big gift!
  9. Do you see a child having a meltdown in a public place? Quietly and kindly talk to the child to distract them from their issue, if it seems possible. Sometimes all they need is a distraction. Otherwise, offer to carry something for the parent or help with another child so they can carry their child if necessary.
  10. Offer to watch siblings so a parent can take just one child to the doctor’s office. This makes it easier during the wait time, and when they are trying to understand what the doctor is explaining to them.
  11. Winter? Shovel someone’s sidewalk. Summer? Mow a lawn. You get the idea!
  12. Autism therapies and treatments are expensive. Host a garage sale and give a local family the proceeds! People are more than willing to donate unwanted items.
  13. This is a tip left early on in a couple different comments, but I think it’s fantastic! Attend a doctor appointment or school meeting and be the note taker so the parent can concentrate on what is being said.
  14. Handicapped parking spots and the neighboring diagonal lines are there for a reason. Don’t park in or on them, unless you have permission.
  15. A suggestion from Facebook: “Don’t tell someone else how to parent their child. More than likely you don’t know the whole story.”
  16. Offer to do some car maintenance–oil change, wash, trash empty, vacuuming, etc.
  17. Send an “I’m thinking of you” note.
  18. Give a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop, ice cream parlor,
    or a movie rental place.
  19. I admit that before autism, I was just as likely as anyone else to judge parents and their screaming, “ill-behaved” children. Having said that, this was suggested multiple times when I asked for ideas: Avoid judging other parents and families. You are not walking in their shoes.
  20. Offer a smile. It costs you nothing but is worth a lot!
  21. Does your child have a friend with autism or sensory issues? If you are inviting them over for a party, make a quiet room available where the child can go to calm their sensory system when things get too overwhelming. Maybe have a soft blanket and a cushy pillow available and dim the lights for them.
  22. Find out a family’s favorite meal and take it over to them or ask what their favorite takeout is, and bring that by for dinner.
  23. Invite your friends over for some girl time, or suggest some guy time for a group of dads.
  24. Here’s a simple one: Spread the word about fundraisers your friends are doing.
  25. When a special needs child talks to you, look at them and really listen. If you don’t understand, ask them, not their parent, to repeat what they said. (Unless the parent offers.) More than likely the parents have been working on social skills and clarity. Give them a chance to try.
  26. Offer to run an errand or two for someone.
  27. Looking for an easy way to help a special needs mom or dad? Put away their grocery cart in the grocery store parking lot so they don’t have to leave the kids.
  28. Pray for a parent of a special needs child. Then tell them you did.
  29. Here’s a suggestion that uses creativity and perhaps a bit of money. If you use a lot of creativity, it requires less money. Create an R&R basket/gift bag for a special-needs caregiver. Movie Night: popcorn, pop, Blockbuster gift card. Dad Basket: magazine, sausage/jerky, candy. Spa Basket: new fluffy towel, lotion, CD. You get the idea…Feel free to leave more suggestions!
  30. I wanted to end with this one, because it’s a fantastic summary. When I asked on Facebook and Twitter for suggestions of how to reach out to special needs families, someone said…“Think with compassion.”

Do you know another way to help a special needs family? Join the discussion in the Facebook post below or leave a comment here on the blog.

Discussion for Autism Awareness Month:Sometimes people want to help, but they don’t know how. If you’re an autism parent, how could someone help you?

Posted by on Saturday, April 2, 2016


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Jenny Herman

Jenny Herman wants to live in a world where dark chocolate dispensers reside on every corner.

As a homeschooling special needs mom, she’s been featured in Autism Parenting Magazine, Wit and Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids: Mostly True Stories of Life on the Spectrum, and various blogs.

If she survives the onslaught of testosterone in her home, she may take a moment to blog, read a book, try a new recipe, or loom knit a gift.

You can find Jenny’s book The Power of One: Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life on Amazon.

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