It was the look on their faces that spoke louder than their words. It said ‘Thanks for trying but you don’t understand what we’re going through’. They were right, in my heart I felt hopeless because what I saw was only on the surface. This family looked at me to help their daughter with autism get back to the full life she once had. They were looking at me for answers I didn’t have. As a student nurse, 21 years old, single, no family of my own, what could I possibly offer them?
That family taught me a lot of lessons but one of the biggest lessons wasn’t about medication or how to use social stories, it was the need for someone to really listen and try to understand.
Its okay to not know what to do
I mean, how do you know you’re loved? For me it’s when someone knows all my secrets and faults yet still fully accepts me and wants to be with me.
With that in mind, here are some dos and don’ts for loving families with vulnerable children:
- Get to know them! Sit with them, take your kids to the park together, say hello.
- Listen. You don’t have to be an expert on FASD or Down’s Syndrome or Pica (or any other acronym!) When we simply listen to the joys and hardships of raising kids with additional needs, we can learn something every time.
- Be encouraging. Having got to know mum, dad and kids (and listened to some hilarious stories) be sure to affirm them where they are. You can never build someone up enough.
- Be overly sympathetic. Yes life has its extra challenges and daily tasks can be 10 times as difficult but we on the outside don’t need to point them out!
- Offer lots of advice. Sharing advice and experience is good but often there are already lots of professionals involved & lots of information to take in. Remember, these things are really personal. Its okay to not know what to do. If you are concerned, maybe gently ask if they need more help – if they do, you could help them find the right support.
- Worry. Being involved with families where the kids have additional needs is a huge blessing and it can teach us a lot about ourselves too. Learning is part of that process; sometimes we all say the wrong thing and act without thinking but God knows our hearts and intentions.
Whether in our personal lives or neighbourhoods, by being friendly, listening and affirming families for the great job they’re doing, we can all show love to even the most vulnerable. My hope is that as we all do this, our society’s attitude toward disability as a whole would change. Instead of getting hung up on disability, let’s focus on our ability to change lives for good.
By Molly Thompson
For more info:
Prospects (Christian organisation which supports families affected by learning disabilities) – http://www.prospects.org.uk/churches/supporting-family-church
How to support those who foster & adopt – http://www.homeforgood.org.uk/articles/what-church-needs-know-about-being-called-foster-or-adopt