Support friends with children with challenges

By Kathy Kuhl

If you are homeschooling a child with learning challenges or special needs, your homeschooling friends may be wondering how to support you. I invite you to share this.

More and more people are homeschooling children with challenges. Perhaps you know someone like my friends:

  • Toni adopted her son, whose learning disabilities were complicated by spending his early years years in an orphanage abroad.
  • Angela decided to homeschool because she was dissatisfied with her own experience in public school. Then she had two children with hearing impairments and one with learning disabilities.
  • After several years in public preschool and school programs, Tami saw her autistic son was growing distant from his brothers. So she brought him home to strengthen his ties to his brothers.

The Golden Rule say to treat other people as you want them to treat you. But if you don’t have a child with a special need, that takes thoughtfulness and imagination. I suggest:

Five Don’ts: How not to Support Your Friend

  1. Don’t presume that the methods that helped your child will help a child with special needs. It’s great to share ideas, but assuming we can solve their problems can come across as arrogant. Kids need different approaches.
  2. Don’t be quick to judge the behavior of a child. Some special needs are invisible. Behind very misbehaving child, there is not always a bad parent.
    One woman told me her son with special needs had been bullied at the playground. Afterwards, he shoved the bully, then dissolved into a meltdown. She wanted to discipline him, but “to get him to calm down, I knew first I had to hug him tightly,” she told me. She knew that the other parents would judge her, thinking she was hugging the aggressor. But she had to calm him before she could explain and discipline him.
  3. Don’t try to diagnose other people’s kids.
  4. Some of us talk about invisible disabilities like ADHD as if they are as easy to diagnose as a paper cut. But most of us aren’t qualified (certain health professionals excepted). If you need to raise the issue, focus on the specific behaviors you notice, and tread carefully.
  5. Don’t play supermom. When I started homeschooling, my first new friend was Melanie, who admitted they had trouble finishing homeschooling by five PM, just like me! Admitting your struggles may free these parents to give you advice or sympathy.
  6. Don’t be offended if a parent of a special needs child is slow to respond to your messages or calls. You thought your life was busy homeschooling. Homeschooling with special needs is even busier. Their time is scarce.

Six Dos: How to Support Your Homeschooling Friend

  1. Listen. Some parents of kids with challenges face huge challenges themselves. After years of testing and research, one Virginian mother told me she finally learned all their son’s learning and behavior issues were caused by two rare but treatable medical conditions. Now that teen is making strides and taking honors pre-calculus. So be the friend who listens through those years of waiting, researching, testing, and hoping.
  2. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15.) A mother in South Carolina told me her autistic daughter spoke her first complete sentence as a teen. Imagine the joy of those parents! Be the kind of friend they could celebrate with.
    Celebrate the small victories of kids and teens with less severe challenges, too. If you taught one of your kids long division for four years before they mastered it, wouldn’t you want someone to tell who’d be genuinely happy for you?
  3. Notice and praise their children’s progress and character. Another mother told me that her daughter started being more patient after the mother’s friend complimented the girl her on her patience.
  4. Give the gift of time. Offer to babysit, even if just for an hour. (For some children with special needs, you may need some training.) You might ask, “How can I learn more so I can help you better?” If the child is being hospitalized, can you take them a meal or organize meals from your group?
  5. Pray for these special families.
  6. Let these families teach you. Emily Colson, author of Dancing with Max, explains how her severely autistic child, like other special children, is a gift to the community. Emily tells how many people are blessed and encouraged by her son’s enthusiasm and insight. Keep your eyes open to the blessing.

Related resources to support families with challenges

How friends, families,and churches can help after a special needs diagnosis, from the Not Alone blog.

Finally, I’d like to hear from you. Parents of kids who learn differently, what have friends done that was most helpful and encouraging for you? Please share in the comments section below.

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