Being His Hands: Special Needs Edition
Some people have a gift.
They look into your eyes and see something’s troubling you. They just know. They ask the right questions. They learn you’re overwhelmed or hurting or grieving or in pain. They find solutions to alleviate some of your burdens. They encourage you, love on you, dive in and help in just the right way. They are God’s hands in your life.
I am not one of those people.
I’m that person who should be observant—I’m a writer after all. Don’t writers see everything? Not this one. I get so caught up in my fictitious world that I miss the one around me. Is that you? Oh, not the writer bit. (We’re an odd breed.) But maybe you’re caught up in your busyness, and everything else is just a blur. It happens.
Or maybe you’re in between. You’re the kind of person who sees the issue, but you’re shy. You don’t know what to do or what to say… So you take a second look at that family who shares the pew with you or give a warm smile across the aisle, but go your own way, wishing you could help. But…not.
This series is for you.
This series is for me.
It’s meant to make us aware of situations faced by those sitting next to us in the pew and to equip us to reach out…to be the hands of Christ.
~ Jenness Walker
Their precious child is finally born.
Blue balloons are fastened to the picket fence, a sign hung on the front door reading Welcome, baby boy! But the baby doesn’t come home to sleep in his little white crib, not until long after the balloons have gone limp and the sign is knocked down during one of the countless trips through that door to rush to the hospital for another week in the NICU.
Autism, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida. The names are different. The details, the symptoms—each situation unique and challenging. A new child, a new world, a new normal.
Often it feels like this sweet new family is facing it all alone…sometimes because they are.
Many times, we don’t know how to support them…so we don’t. And then we forget. For this article, I contacted a couple moms—one of them a published author on this subject—and here are ideas they had to share that we could help lighten their load:
Help with transportation
~ With Connor, we spent over two full months in the NICU. Since I was two hours away, it would be hard for people to help me. My husband was trying to work full time, drive down to see Connor and I on weekends, and during the week, making sure to see our other son who was staying with an aunt and uncle. It gets crazy and expensive. Probably the biggest help would have been gift cards for gas.
~ Play chauffeur. If a mom isn’t able to drive due to a C-section or other things, and her husband has to work, offer to drive her to the hospital so she can sit with her baby. Or maybe you can check to see if the other siblings need assistance making it to school or extra-curricular activities.
Help with food
~ Because you don’t want to leave your baby in the NICU unless you absolutely have to, you often forego getting healthy things to eat. So sending a basket of apples, crackers and cheese, granola bars—food that’s easily portable for a quick snack in the hallway if the mom misses cafeteria hours—would be very helpful.
~ With all the running around and trips back and forth to the hospital, there’s not much time or energy for grocery shopping and meal planning. Having someone organize the meals coming in and the dishes going out would be a big relief.
~ Even after the baby comes home and begins to grow up, having a meal dropped off once in a while would be so helpful. Just make sure to check about food sensitivities/allergies, as many children with special needs have certain dietary restrictions.
Help with everyday living
~ Laundry. Cleaning. Yard work. Whatever the family is comfortable with.
~ Arrange for a crew to come in to fix up/clean house.
~ If the mom is sick and can’t go to the NICU, offer to go cuddle the baby in her place.
Help with making special moments happen
~ There is always an extra weight of responsibility on the parent of a child with special needs. What about paying for a massage to help relieve their stress?
~ Consider covering the cost of a babysitter they trust (or volunteering yourself) for a date night.
~ Bring over a favorite video of the child’s and make it a movie/game night for the family.
~ For children with special needs—especially those who are elementary age—it could mean a lot for them to be invited to birthday parties and events. Figure out a way to make it happen and talk to the mom ahead of time so you can prepare (i.e. have a quiet place set aside for the child to go to calm down, if necessary).
~ Once the child comes home from the hospital, it is usually the whole first year that things are very difficult. Lots of hospital and doctors visits, figuring everything out, lots of financial, mental, physical, emotional stresses and you just feel so overwhelmed. So if people would just once in a blue moon offer their prayers, a gift card to a restaurant, a meal or something to give encouragement and support, that would go a long way.
~ If a child is born with special needs, unless God performs a total miracle, that child is never all better. So it means a lot when people continue to pray and support.
~ Give a list of things you’d be willing to do and follow up with the parent.
~ Offer emotional support. Offer your prayers, your encouraging words, whatever you feel will help lift that mommy’s spirits.
~Even if a parent doesn’t show their stress and pain openly, it’s there. Even the smallest gesture can make a world of difference.
~ Ask yourself what would you would want/need in that situation. What would make a difference? Then ask the family if that would help, if that’s something you could do for them.
~ Remember that this precious child is a child first and their condition is what they have, not who they are.
Every situation is a little different. No one is exactly alike. But ask. Listen. And become the hands of Jesus in the everyday lives of these extra-special families.
Sundays in particular can be a tough day for church-going families who have children with special needs. Stay tuned for a follow-up article, which will focus on ways to make your church welcoming to these families.
A special thanks to Charlene Owens and Jolene Philo for sharing their thoughts and experiences!