How to Encourage a Family that has a Child with Special Needs

by Editor on October 14, 2020

by MaDonna Maurer

The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is a saying that most overseas workers would agree with. We do not have easy access to trusted family members to help us in times of need. We rely on those in our host country to help. I live on the island of Taiwan. For me, it has taken the island to help me raise my children, especially my daughter with special needs. We have lived on the island now for fourteen years. We have made friends in various cities due to my husband’s role, but also because he grew up here.

It wasn’t until we started planning to attend our son’s graduation that I began to think more about this African proverb. We knew our daughter with special needs would not be able to attend the ceremony. She is deathly scared of the auditorium where it would be held. As we tried to plan it out, a couple of friends let me know that whatever we needed, they would be there. That was when I realized that for me it has taken more than just a village, but actually an island, to raise my kids. I realized that in almost every major city on the island there were at least a few families that knew our daughter well enough to help at any given moment. And last year we even had a friend come from a different city to stay in our home for one week so my husband and I could go away for our twentieth anniversary, something we hadn’t done in over ten years. Seriously, that is more than friendship.

I don’t think we are special or have this amazing gift that people want to help. I think that most people want to help, but just may not know where to start. So, I asked some of my other online friends who happen to have raised or are in the process of raising children with special needs outside their passport countries.

Here are a few of their answers:

  1. Meals: Invite them over or offer to bring supper to their house if that is easier for them as a family. We have had both done — the latter when our daughter was younger, and it was easier to have her eat in her own highchair. But both ways allowed for these new-to-us people to engage with our whole family.
  2. Hangout Time: Take the child with special needs on a “date.” Gloria, mother to a child with Down Syndrome, says of her friend, “Beth has been intentional in investing in not just my life, but also in {her son’s} life.” Just taking him to a 7-eleven for a treat gives Gloria a break and has “meant the world” to her. Karis who lives in Mozambique, a mother to an adult son that is virtually nonverbal, also noted how she and her husband are encouraged by the people in the village and fellow co-workers singing with their son.
  3. Date Night/Lunch: Watch the kids for an evening, afternoon, or if possible, for an overnight. This is different from the above because it involves all the kids and the sole purpose is to let both parents have time together alone. If you can do an overnight, awesome, but if not, consider what one mother living in SE Asia says, “We appreciate our teammates babysitting our kids once a month so my husband and I could go out for a date lunch together.”
  4. Video Chat or message – Another mom living in SE Asia says that this was very helpful during the quarantine time when her adult child with special needs couldn’t go out and interact with others. Please make sure you have the parent’s permission before you begin this idea though. As we all know, parents have different rules and ideas about technology and social media.
  5. Don’t be so quick to judge – It’s easy to look at a family and think if they would just try {fill in the blank} then their struggles would be gone. Most likely, the family has tried your idea along with about 50 other ideas, and none of them worked. Maybe the child is just having a bad day. Typical kids have bad days and so do kids with special needs. Get to know the family and listen to what their needs are.

I believe you can sense a theme in these five ideas. This theme is of engaging and building a trusting relationship with the family. Maybe these ideas seem way out of your comfort zone. Trust me, before having a child with special needs, they would have seemed challenging to me. If this is the case, then let me leave you with one last idea, one last thought. Karis shared how the people sing with their son, but she also shared that it was wonderful to have them simply give him a handshake.

You could do that, couldn’t you? Or at least an elbow bump or a wave?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MaDonna lives in Taiwan with her husband, a German MK, and their three children. She deeply believes that a cold grapefruit tea cures the summer time blues. She enjoys a good book and loves to write stories for children about life overseas. Visit her at her blog, raisingTCKs, or on Twitter @mdmaurer.

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