Jill Marlette has a good post about being a mom with their son Tommy, who has Down syndrome. Both Jill and her husband Kyle were friends of mine in college and she shares not only her struggles, but how other families can be supportive. She writes:
I have found that there are a few practical ways friends and family can help parents who have children with special needs.
Congratulate parents on the birth of their child. So many friends and family came to visit us and weren’t sure how to respond to our new little baby. Some even cried in sadness when they saw Tommy. The birth of a child is a joyful occasion, not a time to be solemn and offer condolences. Every family is different and will respond to such a diagnosis in a different way, but remember a birth is a time to be happy. Be sincere when you congratulate them.
Offer to babysit siblings for doctor appointments or therapy sessions. After having our second child, Tommy’s therapy sessions became exhausting. Trying to participate and learn how to help Tommy, while keeping an infant occupied was very difficult. I can only imagine how much more stressful all of Tommy’s appointments would have been in the beginning if we had another child to bring along with us.
Schedule play dates. It is really helpful for me to be surrounded by Godly, encouraging women, and also for Tommy to be around other children to push him to be more active.
Ignore that the child is “different.” It is difficult when everybody notices Tommy has Down syndrome. People in the grocery store will constantly make over our “special angel.” While people are intending to be nice, as a parent it is a little daunting. Tommy is a wonderful, precious blessing to us, no doubt. He is also human and imperfect. Trust me on that. It is very difficult to know how to handle the responses of strangers, and even family and friends. Honestly, my favorite thing is when people completely ignore that Tommy has Down syndrome and just love on him for who he is.
Many people apologize to me and comment about how sad it is that Tommy has Down syndrome. There is no need to feel sorry for us. It was not an accident that Tommy was born with Down syndrome. God ordained it. There is no need to grieve over some kind of “loss” because having Tommy is an immeasurable gain to our lives. All children are a blessing – special needs or not.