The days after parents hear that 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 a child’s file and feel the pull to adopt.
When families receive a diagnosis, most parents go through a mourning process. The expectations and dreams they had for their child must die and new ones must take root. Some families are in a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments. Some feel like they are learning a new language of acronyms and medical terms. During this season, 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 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, children’s minister, or small group leader visiting a couple who just had a baby and found out the baby has a disability, first rejoice with them for the life of the child God has given them. Remind them of the hope we have in Christ and point them to the truth of Scripture. Assure them that the church will love and accept their child every day of that child’s life and that you will be an advocate for them.
- Help meet immediate, practical needs. Do they need meals, help with things around the house (like mowing the lawn), rides to church for the other kids in the family? Think of ways the church can offer real help for these families who are adjusting to a new normal. I also encourage those offering help not to say, “Let us know if you need anything.” Parents are experiencing decision fatigue and may not be able to communicate what they need. It’s easier on them if you offer what you can and let them respond with “yes” or “no.” Say something like, “I’m picking up pizza for our dinner on Tuesday. Can I order an extra for you and drop it off at 5:30?”
- Pray for the family and pray over them. After our son’s autism 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 the needs of the child to the best of the church’s ability and pray for the resources to do so. Most children with disabilities need some accommodations to be fully included in church activities. Be willing to learn what the children in your church need and do what you can to meet those needs. (Don’t know where to start? The SBTC can help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 showing the love of Christ when a family needs it the most is the role of the church family. That love can be an anchor for them during the first challenging days and for the decades to come.