Here’s the thing: being a parent to a child with special health needs can be tough – but your friend who is dealing with raising a child with special needs is probably not going to come knocking down your door to tell you that. She also isn’t going to show up with a list of ways you can help her. So stop waiting around. She needs your support – yesterday.

Be Specific

It’s nice to say, “Let me know if I can help” to your friend, but she might not feel comfortable asking you for specific favors. She doesn’t want to be the mom who needs help all the time. She doesn’t want to be knocking on your door to interrupt your life for her benefit. She doesn’t want to take advantage of you. Instead, make specific offers such as, “When is Jack’s next doctor’s appointment? Can I watch Susie for you so you can be more focused with the doctor?” You’ll likely get a nice sigh of relief out of her as she accepts your offer.

Surprise Her

You remember all those nice things you did for her when her baby first came home or her child was first diagnosed? The freezer meals, and the friendly visits? Don’t stop doing those things and fall back into your routine. For some parents of children with special needs, taking care of their child is physically and emotionally draining. From meltdowns, to big kid diapers, to needles, to feeding tubes, to lifting them in and out of the tub – it never ends. And that means other things, like making dinner or cleaning the house get put on the back burner, a lot. Every so often, surprise her with something you know she is comfortable with – such as a bunch of freezer meals or acting as maid for a day. It’s those times when someone comes through for you when you really needed it that matter most – especially when she didn’t even have to ask.

Set a Schedule

Maybe you decide that once a week or once a month you can watch her kids for her so she can get out. Whether it be to the store alone or even to get a haircut, this will make a huge difference to your friend and give her something to look forward to and get her through particularly challenging days.

Research

When your friend is talking to you about her child’s health, it’s awesome to know what she’s talking about – for both of you. Do some research on her child’s condition. Know the key terms. Know the main medications and symptoms. Maybe even learn how to administer the meds so that your friend can relax even more when you babysit.

Show Up

When her child is hospitalized or sick at home, or when there is a fundraiser or benefit – show up. Don’t be the friend that fades into the background like so many do after a diagnosis. Even if you don’t know what to say, just be there.

Bring Your Kids

If you have children of your own, please don’t shy away from playdates. Research shows that your children are going to benefit from the friendships they forge with a child who has special health needs. Those relationships will build up your children’s sense of compassion and help them become amazing adults.

Listen Without Judgment

There are a lot of decisions that your friend has to make, and many of them could be actual life or death. She’s going to need to vent and she’s going to need you to not judge her decisions. Just listen and know that she is doing the best she can. Don’t tell her you think she’s wrong, but if she asks for your advice directly, then please provide it.

Raising a child with special health needs takes a toll on parents and on marriages. Be the friend who sticks around. While these suggestions may not work for everyone, know what you're friend is comfortable with and be supportive of that. You won’t regret it.