Engaging the parent of a child diagnosed with a neurological disorder or significant developmental delay can be intimidating. It is sometimes hard to gauge how much a parent wants to share about their child. In addition, it is not uncommon to learn that one parent is at a different place of acceptance than the other parent. For example, what a mother is willing and even wanting to share may be different when she is alone versus when her spouse is present. While every family’s journey is different, it is not uncommon for a father to work through the emotional ramifications of a special needs diagnosis differently and after the mother.
It is also worth noting that simply using the term “special needs” or “disability” can be prickly. The term itself can conjure negative images of a child with perceived limitations beyond what a mother may envision for her child. And very often the long term effects of a diagnosis may be relatively mild. As a result, it is sometimes best to talk to a mother about her child without using the words “special needs” or “disability”. Let her be the first to term her child’s difference as a “disability”.
If a parent shares anything about their child that reveals a diagnosis or recognized challenge, it is usually safe to assume the parent welcomes an open dialogue. Very often conversations about their child and their family’s experience can be healing for parents. Christine Hoover shared this excellent list of discussion starters to engage a parent of a child with special needs. If you sense a parent could be sensitive to “special needs” or “disability” references, substitute those words with phrases such as learning preferences, learning styles, or learning differences. – Amy Fenton Lee
- Tell me how you discovered your child had a disability?
- What things have you found to enjoy about having a child with special needs?
- What has God taught you through your child with special needs?
- What are the challenges you face as a parent to a child with special needs?
- Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
- How can we as a church support you?
- Would it help your child to receive a tour of the building and his classroom before his first Sunday in our program?
- What are your child’s strengths? What does he enjoy doing?
- What kind of struggles does your child have because of his disability?
- How does having a child with a disability affect your other children?
- What progress have you seen in your child since his initial diagnosis?
- What treatments or therapies have been successful for your child?
- What concerns do you have for your child’s future?
– Christine Hoover
Other posts by Christine Hoover:
Teaching Children with Autism – The Intangibles
Teaching Children with Autism – The Tangibles
To Tell or Not to Tell: An Open Letter to Parents
A Parent’s Prescription for Disclosure
Success! What our Preschool Minister did Right
Supporting a Family Receiving the Autism Diagnosis
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Related Resource: Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families (reThink, 2013)