I get heartsick each time I hear parents of special needs children talk about how isolated they feel. If you have a friend or acquaintance with a special needs child, please believe that they could use your support no matter how competent and independent they may seem, how much help you think they already have, and despite how uncomfortable you may feel in asking.
Many parents of special needs kids experience social attrition after their child is diagnosed, and become even more isolated if their child cannot tolerate the family's former social schedule. Sometimes an email, or a phone call and a non-judgmental ear is all that is needed; sometimes parents really do need more than that. A few months ago, I wondered why I hadn't heard from a good friend for three days. When she finally surfaced, it turns out that she had had a 48-hour migraine and that her husband had been running herd alone for most of the weekend. I sobbed when she told me -- I would have been there, would have taken the kids, would have brought over dinner -- had I known.
But I understand why she didn't reach out. Sometimes, we know that our support community of special needs families is already so stretched that we don't feel we can ask for more than we already have. Some of our kids are really, really challenging and cannot be foisted off on a $5/hour teenager, no matter how much we need to go grocery shopping or spend thirty minutes sitting quietly in a poop-smell-free corner. We would hire more help if we could, but outside care for special needs kids can be expensive, and competent caregivers hard to find, even for those who can afford them. And some of us don't even want to be away from our children -- we just want more company when we're with them.
If you don't know what to do, how to approach, ask. We parents of special needs kids can be very thick-skinned, and I at least don't mind any questions rooted in good intentions. Ask your friends if they need any help. Ask how to interact with our children, how to make them blossom, how you can learn to love our children with this fierceness that would make a mama bear recoil.
Let your friends know that you are there for them, should they ever need your help. Don't wait until they reach out. They may be too embarrassed, too overwhelmed, or too depressed to ask themselves. Sometimes just knowing the support is there, should they need it, can make a huge difference in attitude.
P.S. I find it helpful to remember that quirky kids often have quirky parents.