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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

10 Ways you can Help a Relative with Special Needs

“I lie in bed at night thinking about Louie. I worry about him.”  My relative confessed this with tears in her eyes as she sat in my living room.

Her worrying was not productive.  She had just spent 4 days whispering about Louie as if he wasn’t in the room with us, and her interactions with him mostly consisted of telling him that he is a “good boy.” I advised her to use her time and energy in a different way.

Instead of worrying about a person with a disability, here are 10 ways to work on acceptance and understanding.

1. Talk to the individual

Many are uncomfortable conversing face-to-face with a person who has a disability.  The conversation often goes in unexpected directions using unfamiliar alternative communication methods or speech that may be difficult to understand.  In other words, it’s an opportunity for both parties to learn and grow.

2. Talk to a lawyer

If you are worried about a family member’s long-term care and support, schedule an appointment with a lawyer and a financial planner.  Most people feel a sense of relief when the necessary paperwork is in order.

3. Get Involved

Attend an IEP, doctor’s appointment, parent-teacher conference, person-centered planning meeting, therapy consultation, special needs recreational event or other appointment

Caregiving requires a large back-up team of experts, which means frequent meetings and appointments.  Ask if you can attend the next meeting with your loved ones.  It will be an eye-opening experience.

4. Volunteer your time

Consider giving a few hours of your time every month to an organization that supports people with disabilities such as the Friendship Circle.  Call and ask when the next information session for volunteers will be.

5. Write a letter

Write a letter to a person with a disability.  Write about what you did today and your plans for the upcoming weekend.  Ask the person to write back.

Another option is to write to your representative in Congress or the state legislature about support systems for people with disabilities, such as inclusive education, vocational training, job coaches and adequate housing.

6. Pray

Say a prayer while doing chores or waiting in line.  Pray for understanding.  Pray for quality of life. Pray for the ability to stop worrying and to discern the right moment to take action.

7. Identify a need and fulfill it

Notice the little things you can do to help a person with a disability.  The person may need help organizing a closet or learning to ride a bike.  Enjoy the sense of accomplishment together.

8. Attend a workshop about disabilities or caregiving

Some non-profits and social service agencies offer training sessions or workshops for family and friends of people with disabilities. One of our friends recently attended a workshop at Eastern Michigan University’s Autism Collaborative Center, because he wanted to find more ways to help Louie.

9. Become an expert

If the unknown is worrying you, then turn your fear into a learning opportunity.  Read about evidence-based interventions and long-term planning. Learn how to become a supportive team member.  Use your energy for something positive.

10. Listen

Instead of listening to your own worries, watch and listen to what is happening around you.  Acceptance begins with an appreciation of the love that we already have.

Karen Wang

Written on April 29, 2014 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"

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