This article explores how you can support your relative or friend who is the parent of a child with a disability.

They need your understanding

One day you receive a phone call from someone who tells you that your relative, who has just become a parent, has been informed that his or her child has special needs.

Maybe you have a friend whose child is diagnosed with a medical condition such as a developmental delay, physical disability or cognitive impairment (mental retardation). Or you find out that a neighbor or co-worker is the parent of a disabled child. What a bombshell this news can be!

You wonder many things. You may find that you are asking yourself the following questions: What can you possibly say to help matters? What if you say the wrong thing to the parents? How can you relate to your relative or friend, knowing that they are faced with the responsibility of raising a child who is so different from normal children?

Your first instinct may be to run and hide! You may feel that you are not up to the task of dealing with this complicated situation. The thought of approaching your relative or friend is distinctly uncomfortable. You may feel that it might be better to remain quiet about your relative or friend's circumstances, so as not to risk saying something upsetting. It can seem that the polite and safe approach is to avoid mention of the child's disability and all things connected with it.

You want to do the right thing

You sense that you are needed. Until now, you enjoyed a relationship with your relative or friend, and you want that to continue on the same level. NOw you might feel that this may be an opportunity to build a closer bond.

You want to be a good friend, mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, neighbor or other close person to the one who has become the mom or dad of a child with far from typical needs. But you wonder: what are they feeling? Understanding the experience of someone in this situation can be confusing and intimidating. You want to say the right things, but feel clueless about how to approach the situation.

Bear in mind that the child is not typical - but the parents are. They are experiencing a lot of intense human emotions. Life has changed irrevocably. They need you to be there for them, available to lend a listening ear to their honest thoughts. Parents feel alone and abandoned when relatives and friends seem to ignore their very real and special circumstances.

Your bravery in reaching out can lead to providing necessary support. With some awareness of what they are experiencing, you can be an important part of your relative or friend's ability to cope with an overwhelming situation.