Keep it Simple: Supporting Families of Children with Special Needs

Disabled Latino teenager with Celebral Palsy and mother laughing.

This week, our guest editor Lyne Charlebois offers us practical ways to support families of children with special needs.

Families of children with special needs are experiencing the same COVID-19 struggles as everyone else: this crisis is affecting us all. Having a child with any type of disability does not make you immune to life’s other trials and tribulations. Still, you may be at a loss as to how to provide them with support. Here are some ideas:

  • Call them. Pick up the phone. Just do it! Simple, no? Don’t expect them to initiate the call. They’re probably scrambling to juggle working from home, entertaining their child or managing an outburst. Ask if it’s a good time to talk. If not, arrange a time when you can try again.
  • Listen. Let them tell you about how they are managing. Be careful not to ‘prescribe’ advice and wait for them to ask for it. A listening ear goes a long way in helping us figure things out for ourselves. If we can come up with solutions on our own, half the battle is won.
  • Do not judge. It’s OK if parents have lowered their expectations around their child’s development. They’re likely in survival mode right now and keeping the peace in the household is more important than the child’s use of gestures or pictograms to communicate. It’s a temporary state – we will re-adjust in time.
  • Assess the situation. We can find out lots of information in a casual conversation, so be on the lookout for clues. Have the parents lost their jobs? Are they struggling for food? Are mental health issues lurking? Keep a list of resources at your fingertips when making your call so you can offer the name of a food bank or a community resource that can help.
  • Suggest fun activities. Keep it simple! Send out activities at a pace they are comfortable with. Encourage the family to send photos of their child engaging in an activity you have proposed, for example, making a rainbow out of colored playdough.
  • Rinse and repeat! Yes, do it again next week, for as long as it’s needed and welcomed. The families you work with will appreciate the courtesy and stronger bonds are bound to develop!

You got this!

Lyne Charlebois

Lyne Charlebois is the Executive Director of the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped (WIAIH). Lyne has two sons born with Tourette Syndrome. She is also a Families Canada Board Director.

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