10 ways you can love your friend who has a child with special needs

June 18, 2018

Did you know that many families who have children with special needs don’t attend church? Or that many parents of children who have special needs are isolated and feel lonely—it’s just too hard to go out in public—and battle depression?

I didn’t know these things before our gorgeous, amazing Eden was born. She’s one of the single greatest blessings of my entire life, and I wouldn’t want to imagine life without her. The Lord has taught, changed, and sharpened me in countless ways just through her. She blesses me and makes me smile with joy every single day.

I’m going to be honest, though, and admit that being a parent of a child with special needs can be exhausting—physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Parenting is exhausting in general, but this is a different kind of tiring. Some of that comes from the extra needs of the child, but some of it comes from the ignorance and the constant assumptions, comments, and actions that we endure from the “outside” world.

I have been a mom for over 13 years, and for the first seven years, I was a mom to only “typical” children. When Eden was born, I felt like the Lord opened my eyes to a whole new world—a forgotten and unrecognized world. So, I want to share with you from experience 10 practical ways that you can love your friends and loved ones who have children with special needs:

1. Know the right lingo.

My daughter Eden has Down Syndrome, but that’s not who she is. It doesn’t make much sense to say that “downs kid” or a “Down Syndrome baby” or “she is Downs.” Eden isn’t “downs.” She simply has Down Syndrome. Also, a child without special needs is most accurately referred to as “typical,” not “normal.” “Normal” is associated with being “good,” which would mean that children with special needs are not good. That’s not even close to the truth or the message we want to give.

And there’s the word “retarded.” I’ve heard some of the most mature, respectful people I look up to use that word. It’s time to intentionally remove it. Most people don’t use it to make fun of a person with special needs, but use it to poke fun at themselves or at someone else, but it’s still a knife twist in the heart every time. This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about respecting the dignity of all people.

You don’t need to be perfect. We just want to know that you are there, you are trying, and that we have your support.

2. Make families who have children with special needs feel welcome at church.

I have hundreds of Facebook friends who are special needs parents, and I regularly see a post about someone who wasn’t welcomed to or was even asked to leave a church due to their child with special needs. If these families should feel welcome anywhere, it must be at church!

We implement something called an ISP, an Individualized Spiritual Plan, at our church to help with this. We sit down with the parents and ask what their child needs so that they can attend the service. Some kids don’t need anything, while others need a buddy to hang out with during Sunday School. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but we should make an effort to welcome these families.

And consider giving the special needs parents at your church a break. Don’t immediately run to one of the special needs parents when an extra childcare worker is needed. Many special needs parents get few breaks, and their children require extra physical work and attention. So, when the parents do get to be at church, it would be great to let them talk with other adults, learn, and rest.

3. Don’t take it personally.

More often than not, special needs parents spend a lot of extra time on the phone with insurance companies and doctors, in specialists’ offices, and researching issues that their child is facing—all on top of “regular” life. I have found it more challenging to be a good friend and family member since Eden was born.

Please don’t take it personally when your friend who has a child with special needs doesn’t return your text or phone call. She loves you, but she really needs your grace and understanding. Don’t give up on her. Keep texting and calling. I have amazing friends who check in on me, send texts, or just tell me that they’re praying for me, even when I have nothing to give in return. It’s a beautiful picture of unconditional love.

4. Sometimes, fewer words are better.

Let your friend vent, acknowledge her struggles, and just listen, even though it’s tempting to try and relate. What we go through as parents of children with special needs can be unimaginable. Eden had colon surgery at 1 week old, open heart surgery at 3 months old, spent 4 months in the hospital, and many more hard things. I know you’re trying to empathize, but it truly is just best to listen, hug, and even cry with your friend.

5. Love her child(ren) with special needs.

Get to know her child with special needs. Learn the child’s likes and dislikes, what calms the child down, and what makes her happy. Learn about the child’s diagnosis and ailments. I have an amazing friend who looks for opportunities to love on my child and gives me little “breaks,” especially in social situations. She’ll hold Eden on her lap so I can actually eat a meal, or she’ll play with Eden for a minute so I can have a conversation with another adult. It means the world to me.

6. Love her child(ren) without special needs.

Whenever our family enters church, someone’s house, or anywhere else where we know people, the first word we usually hear is “Eden”! When you have a child with special needs, that child can often be the center of attention, but it can be hard on his or her siblings. Our other three daughters handle the attention on Eden quite well, but I’m sure they would like some too. My husband and I are very aware and sensitive to this and work hard to make sure we are spending quality time with all of our daughters. You can love your friend by loving her “typical” children too.

7. Only give parenting advice when she asks.

Eden’s Down Syndrome means that she has an extra chromosome in every single cell in her body. It affects everything. There are no easy answers for things she faces. With our older three girls, I never had to think about working hard to teach them how to eat, take steps, or jump off of two feet. I guided them, but it was more of a natural flow of development for them. For Eden, though, all of those development markers took a lot of hard work, therapy, and occurred at a later age than our typically developing children.

Additionally, Eden has faced multiple major medical issues and complications. Nobody can understand the complexity of what we’ve been through, and there is no simple fix. I have received numerous messages about some pill or powder that will fix my child. It’s not helpful and can be quite exhausting. This goes for behavioral issues, as well. Different approaches must be taken for each child, and unsolicited advice can be more harmful than helpful.

8. Don’t generalize all children who have the same diagnosis.

People with Down Syndrome are not happy little angels all of the time. Just spend one day in our house, and you’ll see. They are people with real emotions. They get sad, angry, frustrated, and hurt. They have strengths and weaknesses and varying abilities. The Down Syndrome community is as diverse as the rest of us. You can’t get an idea of what Down Syndrome is like just from meeting one person with it. So please, treat each person with a special need as a unique person—not as the preconceived idea you have about their diagnosis.

9. Include her.

She’s busy, and probably overwhelmed and stressed, but she still needs friends, and fun. Invite her to girls’ night out or out to dinner, even if you think she’ll say “no.” It doesn’t hurt to ask, and at least she’ll know that she’s loved.

10. Don’t walk on eggshells.

After reading this long list of what to do and not to do, you may feel discouraged, but you shouldn’t. You don’t need to be perfect. We just want to know that you are there, you are trying, and that we have your support. If having a child with special needs has taught us anything, it has taught us to have hearts full of compassion. And I promise, we will have compassion on you as you take on the brave and awesome roll of being our friend or loved one.

We absolutely adore our children. It is our privilege and honor to love, care for, and raise them, but we need the support of our schools, churches, communities, family, and friends. We can’t do this without you!

This article originally appeared here.

Sara Stegall

Sara is a wife and a mom of four daughters. She enjoys being a part-time fitness instructor, reading, writing, hiking, going on dates with her husband, and just spending time with her family doing anything. She serves with her husband at Providence Baptist Church near Nashville, Tennessee, where he is … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24