*** Dear Supermom is an ongoing series that will answer questions I get from my readers. I compile them and answer them each quarter. Feel free to submit your questions anytime under our “Contact Us” page. ***
My good friend is a special needs Mom. Her son has Autism and because of that, he doesn’t typically play
Dear Friend of a Special Needs Mom,
Boy have you come to the right place! I could probably give pretty good friend advice anyway, but it just so happens… I’m also a special needs mom. Like your friend’s son, my son also has Autism. You’ve come to the right place; I’ve got all the advice you need. And also, bravo to you for asking how you can best accommodate your friend and her family. She’s lucky to have you in her corner!
To begin with, maintaining friendships takes a lot of work anyway! Add some kids and husbands into the mix and it gets even more busy and challenging. It can be done, but it certainly takes more effort than it once did!
Try to remember, a special needs mom is still simply a mom. She’s still your same friend that she always was. A simple diagnosis for her child didn’t change your friendship. She’s just like you. She has some of the same struggles and worries that a mom of a typically developing child would have.
But things are Different too…
Over time, those struggles may look a little different than yours. But it’s not like you’ve woken up living on different planets or anything that dramatic. You are still in the same book together, sometimes even in the same chapter together. It’s just that you’re simply on different pages now.
It should also be said, it’s extremely likely your friend has a LOT on her plate. There are probably a lot of therapy and doctor visits for her child that keep her running a lot. That means you may have to do some, if not nearly all, of the heavy lifting in the friendship for a little while. Because quite honestly, your friend needs you and your friendship.
There are the things I wish I could tell my friends sometimes. I won’t tell them these things, because it’s not really a conversation you get into easily or maybe even politely. But, since you are being so astute to ask what to do for your friend, I’m going to give you the benefit of my personal insight to help you understand your friend just a little more.
Know this for sure, she has ALL the Feelings. All the time. She’s a melting pot of emotion most of the time. Here’s my point of view on what I need my friends to understand:
I’m worried all the time. Just like you. Just like other moms. Worrying just comes with the territory of parenting. I don’t think your parenting woes are less concerning than mine. I think they are different. And I still want to hear about all of yours! It’s just that I have a different set of concerns for my child than you do for your child now. But I still care so much about you and your family, and I still want to hear all about what’s going on with you and celebrate your wins.
Sometimes I resent you. You aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s not your fault. The fault is mine. But I can’t help it. I’m not proud of it. I’m not happy I feel that way. And I’m working on that. Just know, your wins and successes are hard for me sometimes. You’ll never see that in me. But it’s there.
When I see your child doing all the things that my child of that same age isn’t anywhere near being able to do, it hurts and it’s an awful feeling. It doesn’t mean I wish less for you. It certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t want only the best things for you and your child. It just means that it’s hard sometimes watching your children thrive in areas where mine struggle.
But I’m so thankful for you that your child is doing well! And I don’t wish you anything less than that. Ever. But if I need to duck out of an obligation or a party early, most likely that’s why.
Please still invite me places. For family outings, girl’s night out, double dates… whatever the occasion. Please don’t forget me. Even when I can’t make it to most of the events you invite me to. Don’t stop asking me. There’s probably a whole host of reasons I couldn’t attend the party or event. But know this my friend, NONE of those reasons were that I didn’t want to spend time with you.
Having a special needs child means I can’t always just come do drinks or girl’s night at the drop of a hat. Or even pack everyone up for a spontaneous trip to the park. A lot of my spontaneity went out the window a while back. My special needs child needs his routine. It’s very important. And childcare for special needs kids can be tricky too. Recognize that a LOT of planning goes into any time I get out and about with, or without, my children.
Please be fully understanding if I must cancel last minute on you with the simple explanation of “it’s just not a good day.” There will be days that come up where it’s just not going to be possible for me to leave my child. I’m as disappointed as you are. Maybe more. But if my baby needs me, that’s where I’ll be. Never try to make me feel guilty about that. Definitely don’t scold me and tell me I have to get out of the house more often.
I need you to include my child. It means the world to me. For birthday parties, gatherings, water fun days. Whatever the event. I may not bring him. But I want to know he’s accepted and included always. Special needs life can be very isolating. And it’s heart warming just to know, you welcomed us to be there, whatever the event.
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As my friend, just acknowledge that you “don’t know what you don’t know” and make no assumptions. If you have a question about my child’s condition, ask it. I won’t mind at all. It’s always appreciate when people try to have a better understanding of my child and what makes him tick. I never mind answering questions.
Books for Adults:
Here are a few books I would suggest reading if you are more comfortable learning on your own:
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: Children with Special Needs
- Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
If your kids have questions about my child, tell them to ask too. I am really good at explaining Autism and how it works to any age. I’m happy to help. The questions won’t hurt my feelings.
Help for Your Kids
There are also some books that are helpful for your kids to read to help them understand a little better about Autism:
- We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3! A Story About Friendship and Autism
- Nathan’s Autism Spectrum Superpowers
- Uniquely Wired
And God Bless Sesame Street. They have a character now with Autism. Her name is Julia. And the way they explain Autism and how Julia acts is absolutely brilliant. It still chokes me up every time I see it and makes me so proud that children like mine will be represented and better understood. I cannot applaud Sesame Street enough. Here’s the clip if you are interested in seeing how Sesame Street introduced and explains Julia.
New Friends Only Means More Friends
If you make new mommy friends as you go along with your child in school, I totally understand that. Because I’m going to be doing the same. I’m not leaving you behind and I know you aren’t leaving me behind. It’s simply a matter of widening our circle of friends. For me, my mommy friends are mostly special needs moms, too. They are lifelines for me. I must have someone that truly understands my daily life and struggles.
This will sound harsh but needs to be said… you, as a parent of a typically developing child, truly can not understand how much of a struggle my days can be. I will need some friends that DO understand that struggle. Encourage me to make those friends. There’s always room for more friends.
And for my part, I understand if you make some new mommy friends too. I know you aren’t leaving me behind. I totally understand.
To wrap up, I truly applaud you for asking the questions and trying to be the best friend you can be. I’m guessing you are probably already a wonderful friend. I’m hoping that my view will lend you some insight on some of the feelings a special needs mom or parent goes through. And that, in turn, will help you be the best friend you can be to your precious friend. Just keep trying and just keep shuffling.
- Seasons of Mommy Friendships
- Overcoming Overwhelm: A Mommy’s Guide
- To The Special Needs Mom in The Therapy Waiting Room