My daughter Addie has a chromosomal abnormality that has given her a myriad of medical complications. The first year of her life she spent 6 months in the NICU, came home for 6 days, then spent 4 months in the PICU. It was a very tough first year. Since that first year Addie has had her share of hospitalizations, but most of them were just a few days long. Most recently though, in October, Addie spent over a month in the hospital. Many people over the past 5 1/2 years have asked us how they can support us best during times like these and I wanted to create this post on the best ways to support families with special needs children in the hospital as a resource. My hope is that special needs families will pass it on to their loved ones that ask how they can help and it lessens the burden for them coming up with ideas!
Bring meals. One of the best ways to support families with special needs children in the hospital is to bring meals. When our kids are in the hospital, we don’t want to leave their side. Bringing meals helps so special needs parents can eat without having to leave the hospital or walk down to the cafeteria. Here’s how this best looks: call or text either of the special needs parents and tell them you’d like to bring lunch. Ask what they like, and bring it to them. You can gauge whether or not it’s a good time to chat by body cues from the parent and if they’re ok with it, stay and chat. If things look busy or the parent looks frazzled, it’s best to give them a big hug, tell them you love them, and leave lunch with them. If a parent is home during this or the special needs family has other children, asking if you can bring something to drop off for dinner is always appreciated too. After a long day at the hospital no one wants to cook. Having dinner waiting at home is always so helpful.
Give gift cards. Visa gift cards, gift cards to Starbucks, a gift card for a date night, or even an Amazon gift card is always appreciated by special needs parents. This is a favorite way to support families with special needs children in the hospital because they’re pretty universal but are so helpful. Special needs families can use gift cards for gas, bills if the parents need to take off work for an extended time, groceries, date night for after the hospitalization, or even just a hot cup of coffee. Throw in a thoughtful card and you have just blessed that family immensely with your gesture. Drop it off at the front desk with a room number for an anonymous surprise, or visit and slip it to the family before you leave. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Bring snacks. Typically families with special needs children in the hospital are there for days, weeks, and sometimes months. Bringing snacks is a great way to show you’ve been thinking about your loved ones. Ask them what their favorite snacks and drinks are. They’ll thank you because that means less spending money at the vending machines where choices are sub-par. Someone got this snack box for us once and it was pretty amazing.
Offer to do housework. This one might sound crazy, but you have no idea how much this will support families with special needs children in the hospital. Ask if you can take their trash cans out to the curb on trash day and put them up. Ask if you can come work on laundry that’s piling up. Ask if you can come take care of the dishes that no one’s been able to tend to because they’ve been at the hospital all day and it’s the last thing they want to do when they come home. Ask if you can stop by a couple times during the day to let their pets go outside. Here’s the kicker though- YOU need to come up with how you want to help them. The brains of special needs parents are fried. They make so many decisions during hospitalizations that when you say, “Hey, how can I help you?” they usually reply, “I’m not sure.” or “Let me get back with you.” They simply don’t have the energy to tell you how they need help. BUT if you offer specific help, you’ll most likely get a swift answer back that they will appreciate your help.
Join them on holidays. It’s hard being in the hospital during holidays. Our family has spent 2 Halloweens, 2 Thanksgivings, 1 Christmas, 1 New Year, 1 Valentine’s, 1 St. Patrick’s Day, and several other holidays in the hospital. It’s heartbreaking for us. We want so badly to do what “normal” families do on holidays. Visiting special needs families in the hospital during holidays is so welcomed. It means you were thinking of us enough to take time out of your special day to help make ours a little more normal. If that doesn’t say love, I don’t know what does. Bonus points if you bring something festive like glow bracelets, holiday headbands, or fun themed socks to wear at the hospital.
Pray. This one is so important. If you want to support a family you know with special needs children in the hospital then offer to pray. Pray with them in person, call and pray over the phone, send a prayer through text, or pray on your own. Reach out and ask others to pray as well. Whichever route you choose, know that this means so much to special needs families and your prayers and God’s love sustain us during these horribly rough times. I love gifting Jesus Calling so families can read a small devotional daily and pray.
Provide time wasters. Sending or bringing a goodie basket with time wasters like a hand lettering practice book, a nature puzzle with a roll up mat, sudoku, or even a word search are great. Hospital life is busy but also really slow. Bringing these is a great way to keep their mind off of the harsh realities of being in the hospital yet again, and are very appreciated by special needs families.
Wait for updates. There is nothing more exhausting to a special needs family than getting tons of phone calls and texts wanting updates on the status of the child. While we know you mean well, there’s a lot that goes on in the hospital and things can change rather quickly. Please wait for families to update you as they can. Whether they update in group texts, email blasts, Facebook posts, or phone calls- it is easiest for them to gather as much information as they can from the day and then relay it to everyone once there’s a steady game plan from the hospital team.