“It’s so important to let them know they are not alone”: How we can better support families with members with special needs
by Gracia Lee // January 25, 2022, 7:37 pm
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash.
When Gerald Png read the news of the deaths of the twin boys with special needs at Greenridge Crescent, his thoughts immediately went to some of his friends. Like him, they are fathers of children who are differently abled.
Yesterday (Jan 24), the father of the twins was charged with the murder of one of his sons.
Gerald knows all too well the kind of predicaments these fathers sometimes find themselves in. He has journeyed with some of them for more than a decade.
“I could identify,” said Gerald, whose 29-year-old daughter, Cheryl, has learning difficulties. Gerald owns Soul Food, a social enterprise that employs persons with special needs.
While the full details of what happened at Greenridge Crescent have yet to be released publicly, there has been an ongoing conversation about how we can better support families with members with special needs, especially during these difficult times of Covid.
The spotlight has been cast on the quiet struggles of parents and caregivers of persons with special needs, which are often overlooked by society.
“Parents are forced onto an emotional journey because family members with special needs deviate from our idea of what is expected,” said Janice Ho, lead consultant at Koinonia Inclusion Network (KIN), which advocates the inclusion of persons with disabilities in churches.
“Sometimes they may just lose it. They don’t know what to do. Parents are also human right?”
“Many a time, children with special needs have difficulty expressing themselves, either because they are non-verbal or they can’t find the right vocabulary to express themselves,” she said, adding that the child’s frustration may be expressed through meltdowns and aggression.
This can be extremely stressful for parents, especially when they have to face the child round the clock, seven days a week, said Pastor Lily Yong, who has led Jesus for All Minds (JAMs), the special needs ministry at City Harvest Church, for 26 years.
“Sometimes they may just lose it. They don’t know what to do. Parents are also human right?” she said, adding that it is also common for parents of children with special needs to carry around a burden of guilt.
“When they come to the end of themselves and yet there’s no breakthrough, or they can’t help their child, they wonder if they are the best parent … If they don’t have a good support system, it’s a lot to handle all by themselves,” she said.
Social restrictions to stem the tide of the pandemic has made us more isolated from each other. It has been more difficult and stressful for families with special needs who benefit much from practical and social support.
This is why we must go the extra mile to keep in touch with these families through whatever means possible, said those Salt&Light interviewed.
“Empathy is seeking to truly understand the needs of even the siblings, who are often the least cared for.”
Apart from holding worship services for people with intellectual disabilities, Ps Lily’s special needs ministry also makes home visitations during the week.
“When we visit, we don’t just connect with the child with special needs, but the parents as well, and that provides an avenue for them to share,” she said.
Simply being present and holding this space for them is sometimes all the support that they need to tide them through a difficult day, she added.
She recounted a time when a volunteer with the ministry felt prompted to visit a particular family.
“The volunteer didn’t know that the mum had been feeling like she couldn’t take it anymore; she was even thinking of ending her life,” said Ps Lily. But thanks to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, the volunteer had the opportunity to listen to the fatigued mum and pray with her.
“It’s so important that we let families know that we are here to help and they are not alone,” she said, stressing that empathy and understanding is what caregivers need the most.
Empathy goes beyond just merely feeling bad for them or sympathising with them, said Gerald’s wife, Anne.
“Empathy is seeking to truly understand the needs of the parents, the child and even the siblings, who are often the least cared for,” she said.
Practical help and prayer
Sharing some practical tips we can make these families feel seen and supported, Janice from KIN said: “Don’t be too quick to give advice or Bible verses.”
Gerald and Anne shared that having cell group members who accept and support them has helped them in their journey.
“Caring pastors and friends may not understand everything, but they are there to pray with us, to embrace us.”
Said Anne: “We have many caring pastors and friends who may not understand everything, but they are there to pray with us, to embrace us, to embrace Cheryl.”
Simple gestures of embrace include inviting Cheryl to gatherings and including her in conversations. They also include saying hi to all members of the family during visits, taking siblings for outings, and asking if they can offer any practical help.
Praying for families with special needs cannot be underestimated, said Ps David Teo, chaplain of St Andrew’s Autism Centre and pastor of Chapel of Christ our Hope, which serves families who have a member with autism.
“The Church needs to look in prayer to our Lord who is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. The best comfort for them is to know that they are not alone, but God is with them,” he said.
While some of us may feel inadequate or ill-equipped to reach out to families with special needs, it is crucial that we take take the first baby steps, said Ps Lily, pointing to John 6:1-15 where Jesus fed the 5,000 with a little boy’s five loaves and two fish.
In the passage, Jesus’ disciples had doubted if there was enough to feed the huge crowd.
“Whatever we have, we give to the Master’s hand and He will be the One who multiplies it.”
“We have the Andrews who tell us that it’s impossible, saying: ‘I’m not trained.’
“We also have the Philips who do the calculations and look at all the resources and conclude that our human strength cannot meet this great need,” said Ps Lily.
“But we need to be like that little boy who gave his five loaves and two fish, which seemed so small and significant. Whatever we have, we give to the Master’s hand and He will be the One who multiplies it.”
What is most important is the love that we have for others.
“It goes beyond whether I’m trained, whether I know this or know that, whether I’ve received that education or field training. It’s about reaching out with the love of God,” she said.
This is what it means to bear one another’s burdens, which fulfils the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), said Janice from KIN.
“Special families want to know they are not alone, they are not invisible, their presence is valued and they can also contribute,” she said.
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