If asking for help is not easy:
- Be honest with yourself regarding why you are not asking for help.
- Ask other parents about techniques they use in asking for support.
- In considering who to approach, ask yourself: What are those person's unique qualities and gifts? Have they been supportive of your parenting and how do they relate to your children? What are their attitudes toward exceptionalities?
- Prepare to handle different responses. Some will deny or minimize your child's difficulties: "Don't worry; he'll outgrow it." Others may offer unrealistic responses such as "we're only given what we can handle."
- Ascertain how a person can be most helpful. Not all people can fill all purposes. Some areas of support can include occasional baby-sitting, after school care, going on a field trip, accompanying you on visits to doctors and other specialists, tutoring and/or helping with a certain specialized project, internet research or monetary relief.
Now that you are prepared:
- Try to meet at a time when you can be at your best and can minimize interruptions and distractions.
- Articulate your needs clearly being mindful not to impart too much information early on. For instance, talking about obstacles or the immense effort you put into planning your child's educational or health program.
- Don't lose sight that friends and family will have reactions and feelings about your situation. Encourage them to ask questions, express feelings and allow them time to digest what you asked of them.
- Elicit their useful ideas for you and/or your child.
- Try not to take a lack of positive or delayed response personally or as a resounding NO. Consider setting up another time to talk or inviting that person to one of your child's related services or meetings (such as doctor, IEP) as a beginning to further involvement and deeper understanding of your child.
Parents of high maintenance children face many challenges. A practical means of inoculating against the pressures is to ask for assistance. Support can come in many forms: emotional, recreational, logistical, or financial. The adage "it takes a village to raise a child" is even more relevant with special needs children. Eliciting help will lessen feelings of isolation and stress and may enrich your relationships in ways you would not have otherwise known.
Jenny Frank, CSW, and Roberta Omin, CSW-R, are clinical social workers in Westchester County, N.Y., who have extensive experience working with individuals, families and children with special needs. They co-founded and co-write for their newsletter Special Parenting Matters of Westchester published three times per year.