There may be no more difficult and demanding family challenge than caring and providing for a special needs child. Over the last 40 years, I have been with couples in the hospital when they first learned their newborn had Down Syndrome or another cognitive disability. Families face every day a focus and discipline few of us ever know when caring for a child who might have cerebral palsy or some other physical challenge. At 13 months of age, I was struck with polio and have lived with the results of that insult for more than 62 years. Though my situation was not anything close to the physical and mental challenges affecting other children and their parents, I know a bit about the struggles that come when life doesn’t go as planned.
Occasionally, a family with a child who has special needs may come to your practice. They have a unique set of financial demands and needs that require a higher level of sensitivity and expertise. Resources and legal issues vary for these families from state to state; I will not address such matters here. Instead, let’s focus on how we can care for those in need of special services.
First, find the space in the conversation for the parents to tell their story. Times are we meet a child who has special needs and his or her family in a public place, and we are afraid to say anything. Such is not the case when these families are our clients. When you create that invitational place to hear their story, you will discover a level of courage, faith, and hope that will re-focus your life on what matters and endures. Families with special needs children have a story to tell, and they often are very comfortable in sharing that story if asked.
Second, listen more with your heart than your head. There are more resources to aid children with disabilities and their families than ever before. Many communities have support groups whereby families can find help. Where we can become even more their trusted advisor is in the opening of your heart to their pain and needs. The last thing the parents of a special needs child want to hear from us or anyone else is some attempt at rational interpretation of their life situation. The gift we give is the gift of empathy, compassion, and a caring heart.
Third, as you listen and learn more about this family’s situation, make sure they dial into the benefits of a special needs trust and unique local and state resources. When appropriate, share the names of attorneys uniquely qualified to work with special needs families. During your work as an advisor, be focused on making sure all the “I’s” are dotted and the “T’s” crossed.
Finally, find ways to reach out to your special needs families apart from the business. Pick up the phone from time to time and just call saying, “You and [the name of the child] were on my heart today. How are you doing?” If the family is involved in one of the support groups that might have a community fund-raising event, offer to volunteer or to help that effort. You will be amazed at how a family opens to your offers of assistance. As always, stay in role as an advisor while reaching out a caring hand and a listening ear. Be willing to share life’s journey with a family whose courage and strength embody what it means to be beautifully human.