Even though Autism Awareness Month is over, there are five things you can do for your friends who have children with special needs. It is challenging to raise a child with special needs. It can also be a lonely existence. It is difficult for families to be able to make friends, have play dates and attend events. There are things you can do for your friends who have special needs children to make their lives easier.
1. Give them a call. Sometimes it feels easier to text, but calling allows you to hear their voice and see how they're doing. Tell them some cool joke you heard or ask them out to lunch. A phone call shows them you're invested in their day to day.
2. Be patient. Be patient when they decide they can't attend a birthday party because their child may not behave well. Also, be patient when you don't hear from them for a very long time. They're managing a lot. Sometimes it's easier to lay low and fall off the map when you're going through a tough season. Be patient with them even when you feel like they're not reciprocating their part of the friendship.
3. Buy them a cup of coffee. Give them a gift card to their favorite coffee shop or invite them out for coffee. Listen more than you speak, love them, and serve them. A cup of coffee or a tea shows that you want to sit down and you want to talk. It shows that you want to hear about how they're doing. Don't try to fix anything. Don't volunteer for stuff that you won't be able to follow through on, but definitely listen to them.
4. Attend an IEP meeting. It feels daunting for people without special needs children to attend an IEP meeting. An IEP meeting is an Individual Educational Planning meeting. You may not have experience, but having you there to sit and listen is helpful. Tell them that you won't say anything, you want to sit there next to them and give them support. It will mean a lot.
It'll also help you understand what they go through. One year, I had 11 IEP meetings in a span of three months. Only one time did I have someone go with me. It's challenging, and having someone sitting next to you can make the difference.
5. Ask them about their child. Even though you are dealing with friends and family, the child can become invisible. Hearing their child's wins is great, and hearing their losses are okay as well. Ask about them.
In fact, frame a question like this: “What is something cool and funny that your son or daughter has done this week?” That helps them to talk about the good, but also to be okay with bragging on those wins that may not seem to compare to that of a typical child. Smile and joke with them. And remember, just as you love your child, they love theirs too. They're not always able to share those things because they're not invited to speak about their child.
Oftentimes, children with special needs are treated as if they are invisible. They are very real, very visible, have real feelings, real parents, real emotions and a real day to day life. They deal with things that are sometimes unimaginable but in many ways, we all deal with things that are sometimes unimaginable. Connecting with your friend in that way helps both of you grow.