When a child has a medical problem, when a child is in the hospital, we get it. As family, friends, and neighbors, we understand the emotional and physical strain on the child and his or her family.
Whether we call, send texts, arrange for meals, run errands, drive carpools, or simply check in to offer support, we know we need to do something. We often feel awkward or guilty if we don’t at least offer to help.
What happens, though, when a child is in less-obvious crisis? What if it’s a mental health issue, an autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or any other problem that affects the child’s social, emotional, or behavioral well-being? What do we do? What can we do?
Often, people do nothing. Because we believe that people are innately good, though, we would like to hope that this lack of understanding comes from a lack of knowledge and awareness.
Suffering in Silence
When raising a child with extreme behavioral and emotional responses to his/her surroundings, life can be like a roller coaster ride. Our children may have violent, destructive tantrums, for example, and this takes a toll on parents and siblings–not to mention the child him or herself.
Even if tantrums aren’t violent, per se, the special needs and quirks and changes in routine sometimes wear parents down. Ordinary activities that “normal” parents take for granted can be insurmountable challenges for “special” families. So how can we lend support to families that may be struggling at home?
Some helpful tips:
1. Do check in
When a family or child seem to be struggling, even a short text saying, “Thinking of you,” or “How are you?” can go a long way. Stop and listen to the answer, too. Let the person know that you care.
As well-meaning as you may be, offering advice isn’t necessarily the best approach. Try to be supportive and as non-judgmental as possible.
3.Do ask about and acknowledge the child
It happens often that we go places and see people, and they either don’t ask about our son or they don’t say hello to him. Treat the disabled child as you would any other children, regardless of his or her reaction.
4.Do stop by
Many times we are not able to go places as a couple or family. Our son does best at home, and often, we are home with him. Families living daily with varying issues often feel extremely isolated; they may not have the ability to take walks and hang out on Shabbat afternoons, or go to shul with their families, attend Shabbat meals, or even have company in our home and so on. So stop in for a visit, let the family know that you care, and just be prepared to cut things short if the timing isn’t right.
5.Do cut us some slack
Even the strongest people are still human. At times, everyone in the mix may be tired, tense, happy, proud, or frustrated. That’s actually a good tip for interacting with anyone, anytime.
When friends and family ask about our son, Avi, we feel their love, support, and inclusion. When people don’t, it can be painful and isolating. So, we urge you, check in, show you care, think, understand and connect. Not only will you help us feel loved and included, but you’ll be setting a sterling example for your children. Let’s work together to make the next generation more caring, accepting, and inclusive.
Michelle and Michael Steinhart live in Rockland County, NY with their four children. Their oldest son, Avi, has an autism spectrum disorder. Michelle is the Director of Inclusion at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY and Michael is an editor of CBS Interactive.