Honest to God, Session 6: A Shoulder to Lean On

By Amy Fenton Lee

Supporting Friends with a special needs diagnosis

shouldertoleanonLacking confidence for the right words, people often shy away from parents in the midst of receiving a special needs diagnosis. After interviewing a number of mothers of children affected by special needs, common pointers emerge to help caring friends better engage these families.

Utilize e-mails and texts.

Many parents experience moments of unexpected and even embarrassing grief after receiving a diagnosis. Families appreciate receiving e-mails, texts, and voicemails as the first means of contact and support. Impersonal communications give parents the ability to choose how and when they respond. Short messages conveying love and acceptance are always appreciated.

Acknowledge the pain.

Nothing you can say will lessen the pain and grief a family may be experiencing. Often well-meaning expressions can be received as an effort to diminish the feeling of loss. The first days and weeks following a diagnosis are not the time to redirect and focus on the positive. Remember that the act of mourning can be healing (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Romans 12:15).

Avoid common and well-meaning sentiments like these.

  • Any statement that begins with “At least … ”
  • “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
  • “Special needs children are a blessing.”
  •  “God chose your family for this child.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”

Be present and pray.

The gifts of presence and prayer are more appreciated than an attempt to give theological answers. There are few, if any, comforting explanations as to why this is happening to this child or this family. Rather, parents appreciate receiving the freedom to wrestle with hard questions without feeling judged by friends. Unless expressly asked, withhold opinions for how the family is adjusting to their new life realities or addressing their child’s treatment plan. Instead, pray aloud or in the form of a letter, encouraging the parents and petitioning God’s helping hand as if you were walking in the pain of the family.

Celebrate and include the child.

For a newborn, make a point to commemorate the child’s arrival and congratulate the new parents. Mothers and fathers both appreciate friends who observe the new addition in joy, asking to meet and hold the new baby. For older children receiving a diagnosis (such as autism), parents often yearn for conversation about their child’s passions and strengths. Expressing interest and delight in the uniqueness of the child is always a welcome conversation starter. Most importantly, extending invitations to the child and her family for shared play dates and birthday parties is the greatest act of love and acceptance.

BOOKS THAT MATTER Woodbine House is a publisher specializing in books to encourage, inform, and educate families that include a child with special needs. Go to www.woodbinehouse.com for a complete listing of products.


ParentLifeThis article originally appeared in theSeptember 2011 issue of Parent Life. Subscribe



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