So, I got this letter. It's from a woman who is clearly the kind of awesome friend that anyone would cherish. Here's part of the letter:
Dear stark. raving. mad. mommy.,
My preschooler has a playmate who was recently diagnosed with autism. I know I don’t have to tell you about the trials that my kids’ friend and the friend’s parents and siblings will experience in the coming months and years. I am curious, though, how can we be better friends to them? I feel a little helpless sometimes. I can see the mom struggle, and I stupidly ask, “How can I help?” There has to be something more I can do to help this awesome woman who has awesome kids.
I am sure my mom friend receives tons of unsolicited advice on how to “treat” her kid’s condition, and I certainly don’t want to add my two cents there. I just want to be someone she can depend on to call if she needs to vent, to watch one or both of her kids in a pinch, or to just be the mom of a constant companion in her child’s life. Help!
M.I know, right? Don't you already want to be friends with her? I totally do.
I wrote back to her with some suggestions, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you're a special needs parent, what are some of the things that make your friends so awesome? If you're friends with a parent of a special needs child, what advice would you offer?
My ideas are below. Please, please, please, add your ideas in the comments.
How to Be a Good Friend to a Special Needs Parent
- Offer to babysit. While I certainly don't expect my friends to constantly provide me with free childcare, I am immensely grateful for a break once in a while. If your friend has more than one child that she has to schlep to therapy appointments for just one kid, offer to watch the neurotypical child so that she can focus on the appointment. Or offer to babysit the autistic child so she can have one-on-one time with one of her other children. Or offer to babysit both so she and her husband can go out to lunch. Or so she can get a hair cut, or take a nap, or stare at the wall for an hour. I am stretched ten ways to Sunday and there is just not enough of me to go around. I need help.
- Suggest our families do something together. Our family is kind of a production. Our kids are very well behaved, but let's face it: one of my daughters has ADHD and other "quirks," two of our daughters have severe anxiety, and our five-year-old son is emotionally 36 months old and still in Pull-Ups. And then this summer I had these thyroid problems. I get it. It's always "something" with us, and frankly, it turns out that not everyone is emotionally equipped to deal with our family. Let's just say we're not invited over for dinner very often.
|"Um, we know how busy you always are. And we figured you wouldn't have a good time, anyway, what with ... you know, your kids."|
- Be flexible. My friends are amazingly understanding that sometimes playdates are cut short (or canceled) due to unforeseen meltdowns. I already feel stressed and frazzled and like kind of a jackass when that happens, so it's awesome when my friends act like it's no big deal.
- Be open to just listening. Sometimes I just need to vent. Okay, a lot of times I need to vent.
- Advice ... it's all in how you present it. It really is okay to make suggestions and share your expertise. I happen to be fortunate enough to have friends who are teachers, or counselors, or just experienced parents. I am totally into hearing "I don't know if this will work for you, but what has worked for us is ..." Yes, I think we've tried everything. But there's the chance that you've got some gem of a piece of advice that I don't know about. While I'm not thrilled to be told I should do, I always love hearing your thoughts on what I could do. Plus, sometimes I'm so close to my own situation that I can't see the forest for the trees; I start attributing everything to Little Dude's autism, that I forget that sometimes he just gets a cold. So when you say, "have you taken his temperature?" it helps me. Thanks for being my reality check.
- Tell me I'm doing a good job. As I mentioned in my post Top Ten Things You Should (and Shouldn't) Say to the Parent of an Autistic Child, we can't hear enough of "wow, you're really on top of things for your kids. It must be hard, but it seems like you're doing a really good job." Other things we like to hear include "your love for your kids really shows," "it's awesome that you're such a good advocate for your child," and "here, have this big glass of wine."
- Ask me for help. Please don't think that I'm too busy to be a good friend to you. I still want to hear about what's going on in your life. I can still watch your kids, bring you ginger ale when you're sick, drive your daughter to Girl Scouts, and listen to you vent about the stress in your life.