Monday, 4 October 2021

How anyone can support a parent of SEND kids

Being the parent of children with additional needs can be a rollercoaster ride; ask any parent in this situation. It can be the most unique and rewarding experience of your life while simultaneously being the most exhausting and challenging thing you have ever done.

However, if you have no experience of this life and are standing outside watching someone else go on this journey, it can be tricky to know how best to help them. After all, parents of children with additional needs need support and attention too. If they are constantly giving everything they have and not looking after themselves, then at some point, they are going to burn themselves out. How can you help them, even if they don't think they need any help?

Just listen

Listening is a big thing. Many parents will find their whole lives revolve around taking care of their children full stop.  Some, have to 'hold it together' around their family to minimise stress or anxiety in the home and being able to just talk to someone about things can be such a relief.  

I've said just listen because often parents of kids who don't have the same challenges as mine will try to empathise when the best thing would simply be to support me in however I'm feeling.  Trust me, the last thing I want to hear about when I mention how upset I got after a terrible meltdown my autistic child has had, is that your neurotypical child had a tantrum and so you understand.  You don't.  For parents, having a disabled child may increase stress, take a toll on mental and physical health. Sometimes psychologists or other professional help can be a something to seek out, but a friendly ear makes a big difference for me. 

Listening can also be really helpful in every day situations.  Simply listening when I say I need a minute and understanding that I might need a bit more time to get my kids through the supermarket check out can make a big difference!

Practical Help

Parents automatically put themselves to the back of the queue for their needs, whether they have neurodiverse children, neurotypical children or children with additional mental and physical health care needs. I've got used to my kids needing things to be a particular way that I feel the need to do everything.  I've got to pick the kids up, I've got to make the health appointments, I've got to do their therapy, I've got to make their food because they will reject anyone else doing it and so on.  I've got a lot going on in my head all the time and the pressure to get it right and not forget is huge. 

You might be wondering what exactly you can do, then but anything that eases the stress can be helpful. It can be helping out with school reminders or offers for a coffee.   The biggest thing I struggle with is  supporting other children in the family as it can be challenging for everyone at times, including children.  Having a sibling for a playdate at another house is good for them and respite for the home to.  Of course, this can vary from family to family, but as someone close to them, you will have a better idea of the type of help required and what will be accepted. 

Research

While it can be well-meaning, try not to offer advice unless you have done research beforehand. I have spent many long days and nights reading different case studies, blogs with similar situations and so on. You can do the same and might find it gives an appreciation of what they have been doing for years to support their kids.  Try to avoid bringing up anecdotal stories or mentioning things others have told you unless you know it is of use - remember how annoying that tantrum comment was. 

If you've got a general idea of some of the challenges many SEND kids have, for example, difficulties in communicating, playing with others or learning at school, you can be more supportive generally in the community when you may come across families with SEND kids.   You won't be that person judging the parent in the park when their child hogs the swing, or in the restaurant when they make noise, jump about and have an iPad on full volume.  

Don't be afraid to ask about the kids challenges.  If you don't know something, ask. People are always happy to educate others on things they are unaware of, and they will most likely refer you to get the correct information from them rather than other sources.  

Ultimately, everyone has things going on and if we could all give each other a bit of time, patience or support, life would be a little easier. 

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