Special Needs Parenting: Three Cheers for the ‘Low-Maintenance’ Friends

Fiona Russo by Fiona Russo Additional Needs

Fiona Russo

Fiona Russo

I'm a busy mother of four, wife of one, and doctoral candidate to my ever-patient university colleagues. My passions in life are many, but there ar...

There’s no doubt that the lives we special needs families live don’t fit into anyone’s frame of, ‘normality’ – except ours, of course.

If you’re lucky enough to have friends with high needs children themselves, there’s a level of deeper understanding that’s like a breath of fresh air.

We recently went to the birthday party of one of Charlie’s little friends from her special preschool.

It was such a lovely experience.

All of Cam’s toys were appropriate for Charlie, I didn’t have to explain any of her behaviours, and his extended family were wonderful.

His Grandad came to offer Charlie some food, holding out his hand and waiting with a patience born of experience for her to tell her hand what to do.

It really was the most incredibly eye-opening thing for me.

Better yet, their family lives very near to us, so I’m hoping we’ll see more of them over the coming months.

In more general terms, though, I don’t have any, ‘special needs family’, friends.

I’ve been lucky enough not to lament this loss, since our circle of friends has been nothing short of amazing.

I find myself thinking a lot about this lately, because one family of our particularly close friends has just moved overseas and I know our lives will be very different as a result.

Our youngest children are the same age and have grown up together, so there’s never been anything less than total love and acceptance for Charlie and her needs.

There’s never been any pointing or staring to deal with; they just ask questions immediately as they think of them.

Extended ‘family’ gatherings at parks or swimming pools together have always given us a protective bubble of normality despite our obvious differences from the crowd.

So here they are, three cheers for these brilliant friends who are more like family:

Hip hip, hooray!

I love the fact that we can sit in a room together, chatting and laughing, while I’m performing some ‘special needs’ task that other people might run screaming from.

Better yet, these friends are the kind who would happily roll up their sleeves and do it for us, never missing a conversational beat.

Hip hip, hooray!

They’ve been the friends we can really tell the truth to, ones who love Charlie almost as much as we do and, because of that, they’ve cried with us as well as laughing at – or making! - the most inappropriate jokes without offence.

Hip hip, hooray!

Thanks for all the no-effort babysitting – we’ve been able to drop kids at their house with only the clothes on their backs and they’re fully prepared and ready for anything.

They understand Charlie’s needs and signals better than anyone outside the immediate family and they don’t mind when she makes an enormous mess.

Bon voyage, Tempelmans!  We’ll miss you!


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