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Can Extended Family and Friends Help?

You bet!  When a child is first diagnosed with any special need, the parents or main caregiver is often overwhelmed and consumed with concerns, fears, and practical issues such as learning about or arranging for the correct type of help for the affected child.  Supportive family and friends are so meaningful and needed!  Below are some things that family and friends can do to help:

  • Listen, and then listen some more.  Parents often want to and need to talk about what has happened and share some of their feelings.  While you may not have answers to questions, you are able to listen.
  • Be patient.  Some parents, conversely, do not want to talk about their child’s diagnosis.  Let the parent take the lead on what feels comfortable to them.
  • Ask.  Definitely ask how you can be most helpful.  Sometimes, the parent may have concrete ideas of what might help, other times, they don’t.  In those instances, just try to do thoughtful things.
  • Learn.  Do your best to learn about the child’s diagnosis.
  • Spend time.  Make extra time to spend with the child or “relieve” the parent of child care for a short period so they can take a break or attend to other important tasks or even just to attend to the relationship of the couple.
  • Accept.  The process of learning to cope with and attend to a child’s special need takes time.  It can be an isolating and lonely time. Be understanding toward both the parents or caregiver and the child.

Equally, there are some reactions from family and friends that are not helpful.  These include:

  • Attempting to minimize the child’s problem by saying something like, “It could be worse, he could have ______” “Gee, I wish my kid didn’t talk so much!” “We only get what we can handle” or similar statements.  Remember that for this parent, the issue of their child’s speech problem is serious; is significant, and is difficult.  Well meaning friends and relatives cannot “fix” how the parent feels!  Instead, show understanding and appreciation of how very concerned the parent is for their beloved child.  Let the parent know you are there for them.  Ask how you can help.
  • Conveying that the parent is to blame in some way, i.e.: “You baby him too much.” “If I had her for a few days, I could make her talk” or overreacting, “You worry too much, he’ll be fine.”  “There’s nothing wrong with her”   These sorts of statements are particularly hurtful and serve to make the parent feel even more isolated.
  • Avoiding interaction with the child and/or family.  When loved ones do not want to spend time with a child, parents can feel hurt.  If you feel uncertain how to interact with the child, ASK.  LEARN how to best communicate with the child!