Helping a Family That Has a Child With Special Needs

What are some meaningful and practical ways we can ease the burden of a family who has a child with special needs? My husband and I have friends from church with a child who was recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy. We know this family is juggling a lot of things at once and we want to help them. Any good ideas on how we can do this?

We commend you for your spirit of service and servanthood and for your willingness to come alongside and support this family. With this in mind, we welcome the opportunity to provide some input.

First, you’re absolutely right that this family is “juggling a lot of things at once.” Even though we’re not familiar with the details of this family’s situation, every family has its issues and complications, even those that appear “normal” on the outside. When you add special needs to the equation, the complexities of daily life can increase dramatically. Encouragement and assistance from someone like you can be more valuable than you’ll ever know.

So what can you do to help? Tangible aid is crucial to many families of children with special needs, especially just after a diagnosis or early in the diagnosis process. Practical, hands-on help such as providing meals, housecleaning, and running errands are just a few things that may be valuable. And getting others to join you will not only multiply your efforts, but the encouragement you’ll provide as well.

Babysitting is another area where help can be an especially welcome for couples who may feel that their lives are consumed with caring for a child with special needs. Watching a child for mom while she runs errands or takes a nap can be a lifesaver to her. Likewise, giving this couple a chance to get out together on a date can be vital in helping to ensure the health of their relationship.

Be careful to avoid vague, generic offers of assistance such as “Let me know if you need anything,” since many times people can be hesitant to ask for help, especially if they feel like they might be imposing. Sometimes they might not even be able to identify what type of help they need most. Instead of nebulous offers, be explicit. For example, you might say something like, “I know you need to get out and do some shopping. I can come over to watch your child so you can go out.” Or offer to do the shopping for your friend, and let her know which days you’re available to do it. Additionally, give your friend permission to say, “No, I don’t need that, but I could use your help in other ways.” After you’ve delivered on your offer, follow up by finding out what else your friend needs.

Also keep in mind that a child with special needs may have impaired mobility to varying degrees-and may even be non-ambulatory. This might not pose major problems while the child is very young, but as he grows your friends may need special equipment to help him move around the house, assist him in and out of the bathtub or shower, etc. Unfortunately, insurance may not cover all the cost of this equipment. In that case your church may be able to bless your friends in an incredible way by covering all or part of the equipment costs. The church is, after all, a family, and one way families help care for their members is with material assistance. Talk with your pastor and see if this is something your church would consider.

There will be times when the most important thing your friends will need is someone to talk with. Be real with them, allowing them to be real in return, so that they can share their concerns, their sadness, and their joys. And that doesn’t mean you have to be ready with answers to their problems or needs. Sometimes what they’ll need most is someone to just listen and offer support.

Finally, realize and understand that your friends are in this for the long haul. If you are willing to go the distance with them, pace yourself. The care and concern you are feeling right now will mean a lot to them and still be needed a year or two (and more) down the road.

If you’d like to talk with someone about other ways you can be supportive in this situation, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. They would be happy to assist you in any way they can.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child With Special Needs

Empowering Your Child Who Has Special Needs

Special Needs Children: How the Church Can Help

Our Family’s Unexpected Journey

Joni and Friends

Friendship Ministries

Camp Barnabas

You May Also Like