One word: "support"
No matter who you are or what you do I truly believe that the one word that can help each and everyone of us through the challenges we may face in our lives is the word "support". Think about it. When you are having a tough day, when everything seems to go wrong or everything you try and do just doesn't work the way you want it to.. what do you do? Most of us will call a friend or co-worker or relative and we will vent, or cry, or scream about how unfair the world is. We will share the day we are having with someone we can trust to understand what we are going through - and even if they may not understand completely we still know that they will be there to listen and allow us to get it out of our system and feel better. They will be there because we know, whether they are friend, co-worker, or relative, they care about us and will be there to support us when we need it.
Now think about what it would be like if suddenly you have a child with special needs. Your regular support system may not be there for you to turn to any more because suddenly they don't understand ... they can't relate to what is going on in your life. Perhaps they don't have children or their children are the ones who were talking at one and walking at 18 months and when you have a child that is falling behind or has a medical condition it is harder to reach out to someone who has a child who may seem "perfect". And as well intentioned as that parent may be, they really will not be able to understand the frustrations and the struggle you may be going through to help your child be the best that they can be.
This is when, we as therapists, can reach out and help in a different way. We can supply our families, our clients, our neighbors, and friends with a list of support groups in the area and/or on the web that can understand and sympathize and offer advice because these support groups will have "been there, done that, tried this". We don't even need to make a big deal out of offering the support. It can be placed into a package that we can give out during one of our meetings that could include useful information like a handout on their child's diagnose/reason you are seeing them, community programs (story time, play groups), and a list of support groups. It doesn't have to even be intensive. A simple list of contacts - perhaps a web site that will then lead them to other sites of support, a list of local groups in the area that offer support, etc.
It is easier some times to talk to a stranger who is going through the same thing someone is going through than it is to talk to a loved one who has no clue what they may be going through. I'm not saying that is it not still important to encourage families and friends to be a part of one's support but that it is very important to begin to build a support branch off of one's typical support tree that knows about the struggles and the success because they are going through it now or already have gone through it.
A simple "google" search can bring up a wealth of information that can then be cut/pasted and shared. Be sure and stick to the well known larger organizations as they will then be able to offer links to the smaller and local support groups if the families decide to look further. Don't push the subject either as we don't want to alienated our families/clients but just the fact that the family has it will be helpful. It may take a couple weeks or months before the family comes to terms and decides they need the support - and they will then look for the pages you gave them or, hopefully if they can not find the pages, look to you again for another copy.
When it comes to our children - it does take a village.. and we are part of that village regardless of how large or small a role we may play. A simple handout with a phone number or web link can be a life line to a family looking to find their footing along the uncertain path they have now been forced to walk.
Thanks for stopping by - hope to see you back here again.