The days after parents hear their child has a disability or special need can be difficult days. It may happen in the OB's office when they notice something on the sonogram. It may be right after giving birth. It may come when the child is a toddler, not hitting typical milestones. It may come when the prospective parents open their child's adoption file and feel the pull to adopt.
Most parents go through a mourning process. The expectations and dreams they may have had for their child die and new ones must take root. Some are in a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments. Some feel like they are learning a new language of acronyms and medical terms.
Special-needs parents need an anchor to help steady them. Their church should be that anchor.
All special-needs parents, no matter when they get their child’s diagnosis or what that diagnosis is, need support from friends, their family, and their church. If you want to show them how much you care, here are a few tips for the days after the diagnosis and even for the years that follow:
If you are a pastor visiting a couple who just had a baby and found out the baby has a special-need, first rejoice with them for the life of the child God has given them. Assure them you and the church will love and accept their child every day of that child’s life.
Don’t offer cliche phrases that can sometimes do more harm than good, like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or “God only gives special kids to special parents.” Instead, rely on the truth and power of Scripture. It has the power to bring hope.
Pray for the family and pray over them. After our son’s diagnosis, only one person prayed out loud over me, and she was a visitor to the Sunday school class I taught. Many said they were praying for us, which was helpful, but it was even more moving to hear words spoken to our Father on our behalf.
Make plans to accommodate for their child to the best of the church’s ability. Pray for the resources to do so. A high percentage of families with children with special needs don’t attend church. Our church considers them an unreached people group. We are active and intentional about reaching them with the love of Christ, and we believe every church should be as well. (Don't know where to start? We can help.)
Having a child with special needs changes everything. Relationships and routines that used to be easy take extra work, for the family directly impacted by the diagnosis and for the friends, families, and churches supporting that family. But it’s worth it, for everyone.
Sandra Peoples is a special-needs sibling and mom. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.