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Ten Commandments for Helping Parents of Children with Special Needs
By Michele Stiefel

1. Do not avoid talking about our child with us. Do ask how he is doing. We may not answer much in the beginning — or we may spill our guts! Either way, we remember those who asked and can’t seem to forget those who didn’t.
2. Touch us; touch our child. A hug, a hand on an arm, a look into our eyes lets us know that you care. A gentle caress on a child’s cheek or holding a hand makes us feel “normal.” We feel very alone and different in the beginning.
3. Don’t tell us how we should or shouldn’t feel! We feel what we feel and that’s that! In the early days and months, we are struggling with raw emotion that is usually right near the surface.
4. Don’t say, “God only gives us as much as we can handle!” We are just trying to survive from one day to the next, especially in the beginning. What an additional load to put on someone who often doesn’t feel like he or she is handling anything well at all!
5. Don’t’ say, “I admire you” or “You are so noble.” Unless the parents willingly went out to adopt a child with special needs, we didn’t want it to happen! We don’t feel noble. At times we even feel trapped!
6. Do offer to help. Come and sit with the child so we can take a much needed break. Cook a meal or two and deliver them. Offer to take the siblings out for ice cream or pizza. Tell us that you are just a phone call away if we need anything — and then call us back to see how things are going.
7. Be patient with us. It is very hard to work through our grief. In the beginning, all we can see are the things that our child can’t or will not be able to do. If we have always been independent or overachievers ourselves, it may be hard for us to accept your help right away. Please persevere; eventually we will be ready to accept your help.
8. Be sure to acknowledge the sibling of the special needs child. In the aftermath of a diagnosis, etc., the sibling can get lost in the turmoil. If you go to visit, take something special for the brother or sister, too. Be sure to say hello to them. Talk with them before you make a fuss over the baby.
9. Please don’t stare. If our child doesn’t look “normal” or acts differently, we are very aware of it. In fact, that’s all we can see at first. Find something positive to say — something as simple as “What beautiful eyes!” can be music to our ears.
10. Remember, no matter what kind of disability our child has, he is still a child. He has a need to be loved and accepted. He has a need to be happy and to belong. He needs hugs and laughter, music and friends. He needs you — and so do we!

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