How do I work with family and friends to support my child?

If you have a child with a disability, do you sometimes get the sense that friends and family want to help, but don’t know how? Or that they don’t know how to talk to you about your child’s disability?

You’re not alone. It’s really common for people to hold back, worried that they might say or do the wrong thing.

It can be hard to understand what you haven’t experienced. Your friends and family may not know anything about supporting someone with a disability. Or they may have some understanding, but not know the finer details of your child’s needs.

As a parent, you’ve probably been immersed in information from doctors, therapists, and your own research. Also, you’ve figured out what works specifically for your child.

Sharing this knowledge with friends and family is a great place to start.

Share your knowledge

You might:

  • Share blog articles, podcasts, and info sheets from trustworthy sites about your child’s disability or needs. Peak bodies for disabilities like Amaze (for people with autism and their supporters), or organisations set up to provide information and support like ACD are a great place to start.
  • Involve your child – depending on their age, they can share their likes and dislikes and what helps them. Do they use a communication aid? Share it with friends and family and encourage them to use it.
  • Invite them over to explain how the disability affects your child and family and your everyday life.
  • Encourage them to ask questions – it’s better that they hear it from you why your child doesn’t talk, for example, rather than making their own assumptions.

Armed with a greater understanding and a safe space to ask questions, extended family members and friends may be more willing to help – and hopefully, be in a better position to support your child. They might even want to join your circle of support.  

Helping others to support your child

Getting family and friends involved in your child’s life is a wonderful way to build your child’s confidence and feeling of belonging. It’s really important for you, too –can feel isolating sometimes, not to mention incredibly busy.

People may want to help but might not know where to start. Here are some ways you could start to spread the load and build a wider web of positive relationships for you and your child:

  • See if there are any household or other jobs that you could possibly delegate. These can make life a little easier for you. It might be the mid-week top-up of groceries or getting your other kids to soccer training. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help – sometimes, all you have to do is ask.  
  • If you have a friend with children around the same age as yours, see if you can tee up some playdates. Playdates are a great way for kids to build friendships with their mates from school or kinder. Talk to your friend to plan an inclusive activity that everyone can be involved in or find common ground. At the start of the playdate, help your child introduce themselves and where appropriate, explain what their likes, preferences and needs are. For example, “Harry uses communication cards to talk and tell people what he likes. He loves Lego, just like you!” Let the kids know that they can ask you any questions. Playdates are also a great chance for parents to have a cuppa and chat.
  • Depending on your child’s disability, you might want to call on family or friends to provide respite care – whether it’s for a few hours or overnight. If you have other kids, you might want to take them out for a day or attend their music concert or footy match. Or may you want a romantic night out with your partner! Having a break and spending time with others in your immediate family is important for everyone’s wellbeing.
  • Play to people’s strengths. Some people may really want to help but might not be so good at interacting with kids or doing things around the house. Instead, they might be amazing at life admin – and could be a great support if you need to do things like book in holiday programs, or even help you research different service providers.

If you have friends and family in your life willing to help, let them help you lighten your load and create a positive, happy environment for your child.