I wanted to share with folks a few things I have learned about myself since being a special needs mama. A few things I think I have in common with lots of special needs mamas, things that the general population may not know about “us”.
1. Do not assume that a special needs family can’t, won’t or doesn’t want to participate in the same things that traditional families do. Ie: trips to the water park, trips to the zoo, bounce houses. Give them the same invite as any one else and if they decide to decline because it’s not feasible, so be it.
2. If the family takes you up on the offer, be sensitive and introduce them to the folks you know who they do not know. Involve them and their kiddos in the fun. Ie: All the kids are painting ceramics, invite the family and/or child to the table with the other kids.
3. Any Mom is inundated with a million things to do. Which means, if a special needs Mom offers to do something, let her. Don’t assume that she has too much on her plate and tell her so. If she does, then she will hopefully learn not to offer, and you will have been helpful in that discovery.
4. Be honest with a special needs family. Ask, kindly, if they mind explaining a little bit about the needs of their child. What are their pet peeves and the things they appreciate with regard to interactions with their child/family. Ask what things work best in group settings, like, do they want to be introduced to the kids together or would they rather mingle and introduce themselves. Sometimes, special needs families feel left out and in a group setting, it is daunting to be the one to make the first move.
5. Encourage your special needs Mom friend to be honest with you.
6. Sit your own children down and explain that not all children are alike; and, that’s okay. They should always be accepting of differences, and acknowledging that at a young age is often helpful. However, I will say, young kiddos are often most accepting while parents are standoffish. So, perhaps I should change this one and say, take your small child’s lead rather than your own.
7. Know that special needs parents want time out too. They don’t often get it or agree to it, but they need it. So, don’t forget them when you are having a girls or guys night out. It may be just what they need, just like you. Or, they may need to take a rain-check, but the offer is a simple reminder that there is life beyond special needs parenthood.
8. Accept that special needs families have special needs. That’s it. They are not better or worse than any other family, just different.
9. Get involved. If your kids are friends with a special needs kid, get involved. Ask the family to teach you some of the best ways to interact or communicate with their child, so all your kids can work to make the friendship more successful.
10. Offer to help. This one is tough, because a lot of special needs families seem like they have it all together, and it amazes you. Or you don’t know how to help. Just offer. They will accept or decline, but it’s nice to know someone wants to assist them.