How to Support Special Needs Families

Special needs families experience all the everyday ups and downs of parenting—but amplified. Common activities such as playdates, doctor appointments, and errands often consist of greater obstacles, extensive planning, and no shortage of stress.

Challenges Faced by Special Needs Families:

  • Drained Energy: Parenting takes a lot of energy. On top of that, add time-consuming appointments, the trial and error of finding accessible activities, and caring for a child during flare ups or meltdowns. When a child has a disability, a parent’s patience must be at an all-time high, all of the time.
  • Lack of Resources: It’s incredibly frustrating to constantly feel the need to advocate for your child’s medical, educational, and human rights. Many places and activities are inaccessible to people with special needs, and disability resources are often low or nonexistent. There’s also a lack of babysitters who specialize in dealing with children with neurodiversity or special medical needs, so time away from the family to relax and recharge is often minimal.
  • Dealing with Judgment: If a child with a disability acts out in public, it’s not uncommon that people react with glances, glares, or raised eyebrows. Whether the child notices it or not, it’s difficult for parents to cope with the judgment of their loved one.
  • Critical Expenses: Between therapist appointments, mobility aids, medicine, and specialist copays, the cost of parenting significantly increases for special needs families. Money can be a huge burden on an already stressful situation, especially when raising a child in a single parent household. In addition, many parents of children with special needs have to cut back on their work hours to make room for caregiving, decreasing their income even more.

Given that one in five households in the United States cares for a child with special needs, you probably know a special needs family. Whether it’s your neighbor, coworker, friend, or extended family member, making an attempt to support them in any way can help alleviate some of their day to day challenges. Don’t know where to start? Keep reading to find out what you can do to help!

7 Ways To Support Special Needs Families

When times get tough, there are many small actions you can take to help make a significant impact on a family’s life. A little bit of support from a loved one goes a long way!

  1. Just Listen: Sometimes, a parent of a child with a disability just needs to vent. Avoid pity or judgment. Be the friend who simply listens to their frustrations and offers a shoulder to cry on. Suggest going for a walk during the venting session. Get some fresh air, get moving, and get listening!
  2. Promote Positivity: Your loved one may have a lot of self-doubt about their parenting. Provide them with positive affirmations: tell them that they’re doing an excellent job, and offer up some examples of the progress you see in their child’s development. This can give them a new perspective and help them cultivate a more positive outlook!
  3. Offer to Babysit: Giving your time may be the greatest gift of all. If you have the ability to do so, offer to look after your friend’s child for a day, or even just a few hours. This will give them a much needed, much deserved break from the constant hustle and bustle of their everyday life.
  4. Support the Siblings: Oftentimes, the siblings of a child with a disability don’t get as much attention. Try to do anything you can to make the siblings feel special, whether that’s taking them out for ice cream, or cheering them on at a sporting event. Sometimes, they could use a reminder that they’re just as loved and just as cared for as their sibling with special needs. There are also great organizations such as WisconSibs that focus on helping and uplifting siblings in this situation.
  5. Pick Up the Tab: Every once in a while, offer to treat the family to dinner, a drink, or even a day trip. Having a child with special needs can add up quickly, and this is a wonderful way to alleviate that financial stress for a moment.
  6. Educate Yourself: Find out the most effective and appropriate way to engage with your friend or family member’s child based on their disability. Do some research: read a book, watch an educational video, and don’t be afraid to ask the parent questions!
  7. Be Inclusive: Always ensure that your loved one’s child is included and that you’re accommodating to the child’s needs. Make inclusivity a part of your life, and set a good example for the rest of the world! Learn more by reading 5 Actions to Become a Disability Advocate.

Request Respite at Covey

Covey knows that family caregiving is a fulltime job! As a nonprofit organization devoted to enriching the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families, we understand the complexity of care that goes into the day-to-day lives of special needs families. So, we’re here to help!

Located in Appleton and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Covey provides respite care services: round-the-clock, individualized care and activities for adults with disabilities. Family caregivers can feel confident that their loved one is in good hands. It’s time for the hardworking parents to relax, recharge, and renew their ability to nurture!

For more information about our respite care program, visit