By Dr Krystal-Jane Verasammy
At first glance, it may seem obvious what ‘kindness’ means. It may mean different things to different people. The true definition of kindness is the act of giving without the expectation of something in return. Being kind does not need to cost anything. Moreover, being kind to families with children who are differently-abled can make a huge difference. Any act of kindness and compassion by family, friends and the community would be deeply appreciated, especially during this time of global uncertainty and unpredictability.
Evidence suggests that kindness has benefits at a personal and community level. Science tells us that acts of kindness trigger our ‘feel-good’ hormones. This reduces stress and improves emotional wellbeing, as we feel more satisfied and happier. It also reduces isolation and increases our sense of belonging. Thus, we feel more connected, and part of a community. Overall, collective mental health is improved.
As an advocate for persons who are differently-abled, it’s important to increase social awareness. It’s important for you to know that the necessary structures, routines and services for differently-abled children have been disrupted, causing additional stress and responsibilities in these families. In many cases, children have lost access or have had to adjust to online learning platforms for school, as well as physical, occupational, speech and behavioural therapies. During this current, global pandemic families had to assume even more tasks, and duties with full-time caregiving, home-schooling and managing the challenging behavioural issues of their children who are differently-abled.
Given this, you must be wondering how you can support or give an act of kindness to these families. The following are six tips:
1. Keep in touch and be supportive.
Often, parents of differently-abled children feel alone and isolated. With the pandemic, they may feel increased isolation and anxiety. Parents may be worried of regression hard-won skills with the pandemic. A simple text, email or call to say ‘hello’ can be helpful. You can also use Facebook, Zoom and other social media platforms to lend support.
2. Listen without judgement
Give space to parents and caregivers to vent, cry or scream. Truly ‘listening’ with an open heart and mind is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves and for them. To give someone our complete attention when they speak is the truest form of kindness. Remember, you do not need to solve their problems or provide solutions. You simply need to offer space and listen.
3. Help with everyday tasks
In light of the new normal there may be lines everywhere, from groceries, banks, pharmacies etc. Parents may not be comfortable bringing their children out of the house as they may be at increased risk to possible virus exposure. Others may not be able to leave their child alone at home while running essential errands. If possible, offer to get groceries or medical supplies while you do your own shopping. It will save much-needed time and energy.
4. Send a meal
Another act of kindness would be to send a meal. You can either bake an extra macaroni pie/chicken or offer to order a pizza or fast-food meal from a local restaurant. Not only would you be helping these families, you would also be supporting local businesses who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Many businesses are also offering free delivery services, so this further supports this initiative.
5. Express you support
Due to the pandemic, many fundraising events such as the Buddy Walk and 5K Marathon by the Down Syndrome Family Network have been cancelled this year. These organisations need the public’s help more than ever to support individuals, families and communities. Donations are always welcomed and appreciated. Also purchasing goods and services that contribute to the cause can be helpful.
6. Increase public awareness
This is the perfect time to learn more about Down Syndrome, Autism, Intellectual Disability or other disabilities. Watch a documentary, read an article, or go online to gain a better understanding of these conditions and how you can offer support and any act of kindness. Start a conversation with a friend or family about inclusion for all; support and kindness for all.
About the author
Dr Krystal-Jane Verasammy is the Founder and Lead Counselling Psychologist of Therapeutic Spaces Counselling and Psychotherapy Ltd. She is also a Board Member of the Down Syndrome Family Network. Her personal mission is to empower parents as they advocate for their children, while balancing their own emotional and psychological well-being. She holds a professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology from the University of Roehampton, London, U.K. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org