How to help friends parenting a child with special needs

Written by Jen Forsthoff
Published on September 30, 2022

As special-needs parents, the demands our children sometimes require of us cause us to muster up a superhero type of strength and independence. Over time, we tend to build this tough exterior that helps us overcome the highs and lows of raising a child with a diagnosis. And every so often I am asked the sacred questions, “What do you need?” “What can we do?” I can be caught off guard by this tender request, not able to articulate our current needs. Not because I don’t want the help; simply because of the level of independence in which we have learned to function.  

Many of our needs are the same as any typical parent. We need coffee, the occasional nap, a home-cooked meal, maybe even an extra pair of hands when you see us struggling to get out the door. No matter the parent or the need, we know that all our needs are met in Christ (Philippians 4:16). He alone is our portion and source. But God also created us to need each other. He compels his people to be his hands and feet by meeting the needs of others. 

So, for the parent who may find it difficult to express the simple, the practical, and the deeper needs of special-needs parenting, I want to share this with you to bring some language to what you might be feeling. 

And to the one reading who has a heart to help the parent of the child with special needs but finds it difficult to know where to start, I hope this list of needs helps you get practical and meet a need that may or may not be expressed.

As I share this list with you, I know I cannot speak on behalf of all special-needs parents, but I hope to share some needs that I have felt over time and have seen in parents who are caring for a child with a challenging diagnosis. The goal is to help start the conversation about the special needs of the special-needs parents.

Needs of the Special-Needs Parent:

1. Practical help

Practical help is always needed and appreciated. If you are able to give time to help with laundry, yard work, errands, or even other siblings, you can be such a blessing! Or if you are good at gathering information, you might consider offering to do research for their child’s current needs- finding doctors, books/resources, school programs or local events. Give what you can and you will make an impact. If you are able to help financially, every little bit helps to go towards medical bills, prescriptions, therapies, etc. 

2. Self-Care

A time of respite or self-care is usually at the top of this list of needs. Respite provides parents the opportunity to refresh and recharge while knowing their child is in good hands. If you have an afternoon or morning free, offer to walk the kids or sit with them so that mom or dad can take a nap, shower, go to the gym, relax and read a book.  It will be a nice refresh to reset them physically and mentally.  Whether you feel comfortable offering that type of support or you connect them to a respite ministry, those few hours or even a night away can minister greatly to their hearts.  Many times, parents can’t leave their child alone long enough to take care of their own personal needs. 

3. Friends

One of the greatest needs of the special-needs parent is friendship. We can easily find ourselves feeling lonely; friendship is a gift and can be a great source of encouragement and joy in our lives. We want to have coffee, go on walks, and have meaningful friendships. We want someone to listen; we need a friend who doesn’t try to have all the answers, but has a heart to let us share the beauty and challenges we carry each day. 

4. Encouragement

Your encouragement goes a long way. This is something easy to give and greatly appreciated. We need to hear that we are doing something right. As we battle insecurity and self- doubt, please help us celebrate the gains and the good that you see in our child and in our family. We need your encouragement. Encourage us in the Lord and his promises. 

5. Prayer 

Our greatest need is prayer! We need prayer as a parent and prayer for our children. Pray for miracles! Pray for strength. Pray for wisdom. Your prayers are the most important help you can give. Start praying today for the parent you know, and let them know you are praying. You can share bible verses or even write them a note that tells them that you are standing in faith with them through prayer. 

6. Fun

In all that we carry and face as special-needs parents, we need someone who will help us have fun! Our hearts can get heavy and overwhelmed at times. We need someone who will bring joy and stir hope. Help us take a day to laugh and enjoy life.  We need your help to do this! 

God has designed us with the ability to bear each other’s burdens, encourage one another, and even meet one another’s needs (Phil 4:16). The special-needs parent doesn’t always feel comfortable asking for help, so as the family member or friend, take the first step and initiate the conversation. Know that God sees your heart and your efforts. What a gift that we can lean on others and know that we don’t have to journey through life alone! 


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Jen Forsthoff

Jen Forsthoff is the author of Chosen for Charlie: When God Gifts You With a Special- Needs Child and Champion For Charlie: Rise Up and Advocate For Your Child. Jen and her pastor-husband, Lucas, live in Michigan with their three children. Their oldest, Charlie, was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 at birth and has opened their eyes to the needs of families just like theirs. Raising Charlie, along with her experience as a classroom teacher and in ministry, has fueled Jen’s passion to positively impact families who face the challenge of parenting a child with special needs.  She writes, speaks, and advocates for families who need a message of hope and biblical truth to shape the everyday perspective of their role as the parent and champion for their child. In both ministry and educational platforms, Jen is a voice for parents raising a special-needs child. As God has opened doors through radio, television, community events/organizations, and ministry partnerships, she continues to bring a message of hope to families. You can connect with Jen at jenforsthoff.com and on Instagram @jforsthoff.

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