Remember in 2011 when Japan was hit with a triple-whammy earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster? Hearts worldwide were touched with shock, sadness and then admiration.
In spite of those terrible experiences, the Japanese people cooperated with their government, were peaceful, and were exceptionally generous to one another. Media reports showed some citizens who began grabbing bottled water off the shelves, then replacing several for others waiting nearby. These noble people were a testament of teamwork and recovery.
At the moment, the United States isn’t facing the same dire circumstances, but there are various challenges for individuals with disabilities in every community and state in the nation. As a parent of a daughter with Down syndrome and autism, my concerns for this fragile population are notorious budget cuts, helpful programs being dropped, and possible bullying or mistreatment.
My husband, Rod, and I know countless families who are greatly concerned (OK, we’re all afraid) of the present needs of their vulnerable children who have physical, intellectual and social issues. Especially after high school is over and adulthood sets in, there is a real lack of meaningful employment. Eventual aging complexities send us deeper into the ravine of concern.
We hear others honestly say, “It looks pretty hard having a disabled loved one, and I’d like to help somehow, but I honestly don’t know how to help these families.”
While you may not be able to solve big problems, help them recover, or offer financial assistance, may I offer some simple strategies that truly could help lighten their load. If we become a team, we can “brighten up some gray areas” of their lives.
Mellow Yellow: Befriend them. Most families dealing with a disability have relatively stressful lives, so having a nice, quiet evening with friends is welcome. Remember, it needn’t be thrilling or fancy, because calm activities are often more satisfying.
Tickled Pink: Be excited for the milestones met along the way. Small goals matter. Many meaningful rewards for people with developmental delays are free (handshake/high-five/smile/hug) but beyond that, cheap, easy things like writing a card, taking a photo, or doing a favorite activity ( like puzzles, Legos, or coloring) together are satisfying.
Green with Envy: Everyone knows about sibling rivalry between children. Frankly, some parents with a disabled child envy other parents. Try to understand their hidden resentments of dreams shattered, draining finances, frazzled nerves — and reach out with sincere compliments and support. Point out the beauty and growth.
Basic Brown: It seems boring, but keeping “basic routine care” is crucial for families with special needs. Please remember, however, that every care-provider needs an occasional break. Consider brainstorming of ways that you or other programs nearby can help out.
Red Hot: Realize the frustration, exhaustion and anger of parents with a disabled child trying to get an accurate diagnosis, helpful programs, or educational funding for their complex student. If you can, perhaps consider offering to help research a disorder in health books, or compile a well-worded letter to request funding. Let them know they are not alone in the battle.
True Blue: Building strong, resilient marriages is perhaps the greatest need of families in the disabled community. Extramarital affairs, desertion, and divorce are escalating and devastate so many. Some communities have created weekend retreats to mend and build the marriages of these courageous couples. One hotel created a drawing for couples in need for a free night’s stay and breakfast, calling themselves a “hotel with a heart.”
Talk ‘til You’re Purple: Sometimes families need a strong voice of advocacy to get things done, whether it’s with the schools, a land-lord, or doctor. Simply standing by their side or speaking up truly makes a difference. Don’t be afraid to do the right thing.
Jet Black: Traveling by planes, trains and buses are often quite challenging for disabled individuals and their care-givers. Please be considerate and cooperative.
Code Orange: Children and teens with autism have had many misunderstandings with authority figures (police/fireman/principal) during times of crisis. If you’re computer savvy and could help a struggling mom, perhaps you could create a laminated warning sign to attach to their car window or the person’s backpack indicating Special Need Caution: This individual may not respond to verbal commands, etc.
Gray Area: The complex decision of full-time care outside the individuals’ home is never an easy decision — please respect it. This may be a necessary measure for family survival.
Go for the Gold: There is always a need for volunteers and participation at Special Olympics, a wonderful program, or consider donating time or prizes for fundraisers, Buddy Walks or other helpful programs.
Pure White: Take the time to really get to know individuals with disabilities and you’ll find they have remarkable abilities and promise. If you’ve had a beautiful experience, or witnessed others overcoming trials, please share it. By blessings others, your life will be blessed.
Yep, teamwork, it’s the best work of all. If everyone does a little, it helps in a big way. Look around then follow your heart. Take care, and God bless.
Pearson is an award-winning freelance writer and motivational speaker. Send your teamwork stories to Elayne’s email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at www.keepitupmom.blogspot.com