Often, I have noticed a hesitation or awkwardness on the part of friends who just don't know what to say or do. I know they care. And I know they mean well. They are, quite simply, at a loss.
Here is what I would like to say to them and others like them, if they were to ask how to be a friend to a special-needs parent:
1. You will probably look up the child's condition online to learn more about it. That's awesome. But try to remember that no condition has identical characteristics. For example, many people are afraid of upsetting an autistic child by touching him. But my son is a complete snuggle-bug. He, like every other person on the planet, is an individual. By all means, ask us about our kids. Feel free to ask, "Hey, I've read some have issues with such-and-such. Does she?" I promise you, we're happy to talk about it. We need to talk about it. And, for a period of time, it may be all we talk about. Try not to resent that. We'll adjust. But we need a little time and a lot of patience.
2. Fight the urge to avoid interacting with our children. If you are nervous about how to hold our children or how to talk to/play with them, tell us. We'll help you. I'm happy to advise someone how to gain my son's attention. It's a wonderful thing to me when others see what I see in him, love him, and have fun with him.
3. Remember that every mother's heart is the same. I don't care what condition a baby is born with, his mama needs to hear how very precious he is. Our special-needs children are...children. They might be different than the other children, but they still do adorable things. And, yes, just like every mama who ever was, we have a desperate need to regale you with those stories. Fawn and coo and pretend to marvel over our kids the same way you would with any others.
4. If you have children, don't leave them unprepared for meeting ours. Children are curious about differences. It's okay to explain it to them. And they aren't being bad if they ask an honest question. How else will they learn? Help them to put themselves into the special-needs child's shoes. People say that children are cruel. But, in my experience, they can show great compassion when they understand the other child's differences and are encouraged to adjust their play.
5. Understand that parents of special-needs kids are inundated with unsolicited advice. Believe me, our kids have a plethora of specialists. We don't need any more. What we want from you is friendship.
6. Know that we will never again be the same person you first befriended. Our interests, moods, and opinions very likely have changed. We are still ourselves, yet we are different. Love us anyway.
7. Never say, "I'm sorry". We are not ashamed of or disappointed in our children. We love them. And they are a source of joy for us. "I'm sorry" implies something bad has happened. But we do not regret their lives. Neither should you.