How to support the parents of a child with hidden disabilities

You’re trying to picture what your friend is telling you about how her child is struggling. But all you’ve ever seen is a charming, polite boy, whom you can’t image throwing anything other than a party. You want to believe her, even support her, but you just don’t see it.

It’s easy to understand when a child limps or wears hearing aids. But many disabilities – such as autism, ADHD, anxiety or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder – are hidden.

trowelAs a mom of a child with invisible disabilities, I’d like to offer some ways to help.

      1. Withhold judgment
        Don’t judge our parenting skills by our child’s behaviour. Much of the behaviour is beyond our control; in some cases, it’s beyond our child’s control too.
      2. Avoid offering unsolicited advice
        Unless you have been asked for an opinion because of your training or experience, don’t offer a diagnosis or treatment. Our kids have been poked, prodded, researched and questioned beyond what many can imagine. We as parents have done plenty of research.
      3. Believe us
        If you really want to know what’s going on with our family and I trust you enough to tell you, believe me. It’s hard work to get the help that our kids need because a lot of the time no one else sees it. Children tend to reserve the worst behaviour for at home where it’s safe to unravel.
      4. Invite us over
        Close the doors you don’t want entered and put away your valuables; then, please, invite our family in. It’s isolating to have a child with issues. You may be nervous, but I can assure you: we are even more so! If you can meet us at the door with open arms rather than a list of rules of conduct, that will make us cry with appreciation.
      5. Laugh with us
        We need to release the tension that we constantly live in. If my kid took something of yours and I’m coming over to return it, could we joke about it a little?
      6. Listen
        Reading blogs and articles like this helps. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
      7. Offer respite
        Even when they are teenagers, our children need supervision. It’s not easy to find competent caregivers for a child with difficult behaviours. Take my kids for the weekend or come over and let us weary parents leave for a while.
      8. Love our kids
        Accepting that my child has limitations and loving him anyway is your greatest gift to me. If I believe you actually care about my child enough to spend time with him, not so you can fix him, but because you like him, it heals more than you will ever know.

sawMy child is my child: whether he’s adopted, biological or gained a place in my heart through foster care or some other arrangement. Don’t assume that because a child is difficult to deal with that we love him less. We chose to be his parents, and we will do everything in our power to love, protect and fight for him.

And we need all the support we can get.

Lani Wiens is a freelance writer who lives in Saskatoon with her husband and six children. A member of Hillside Christian Fellowship, Beechy, Sask., she blogs at, where a version of this article first appeared.

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