Last month Liam and I went on a 5-day, 1500-mile road trip from Arizona to Colorado with my Dad a.k.a. Gramps.

There are so many things that I could share that we gained or learned out of this experience.  But the two biggest take-aways I want to share with you are:

?prioritizing making memories NOW with the people you love, and 

?the importance of giving your extended family (friends, support system) opportunities to learn and grow alongside your family member with disabilities or other special needs in safe and supported space.

Being on the road with Gramps to go see my sister and her family for Father’s Day was something I’ll never forget.  It was a risk. I didn’t know how Liam would do.  I didn’t know how Gramps would do.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle what they each needed during the trip.  They each have important needs… Liam’s are more mental/emotional.  Gramps’ are more physical.  But we DID it!!  Liam was an amazing DJ for us in the car and I got to hear some stories from my childhood that I’d never heard before. We also got to enjoy the beautiful views driving through Colorado and had so much fun hanging out with family. Which brings me to the second take-away.  We all crave support, acceptance, and encouragement from our extended family members, friends or support system.  But we often expect them to just dive right in and give that to us without us helping them learn and grow in a safe and supported space.

I often hear from parents, “Well, _______ (grandparents, sibling, etc) will take the other kids in our extended family for an overnight stay (a weekend, a special event, etc.), but they won’t even watch my kid for an hour.”

Can I tell you the truth?  It’s usually not because they don’t want to support you and your family.  It’s usually because they don’t know what to do, they’re afraid, and they think they’ll do something wrong or not be able to handle the situation if things don’t go smoothly.

On one of the days we were in Colorado, we visited an adventure park.  No one in my extended family had ever done this with Liam or with Gramps since he started having mobility challenges.  But my sister wanted to do something fun as a family.  

There are a lot of ways I could have responded or handled this.  I chose to be a supportive “coach” for them so they would be able to learn and grow with Liam as well as with the new “normal” for Gramps. What that meant was giving them tips and insights on what helps Liam to regulate.  It was trusting them to do things with him that would stretch him and them with me on hand to help if things went south.  

At one point, Gramps went on a 4D ride with Liam and his cousin.  Liam sat in-between them and was holding onto them because he had no idea what to expect.  Gramps told me afterward he was so nervous about what Liam would do if something freaked him out. It made it hard for Gramps to fully enjoy the ride. But he said afterward, he wouldn’t have minded going again with Liam because they all did just fine. In that moment, not only did Liam learn and grow, Gramps did, too.  

There are so many similar stories about the other family members with us that day.  Each one took a turn going on a ride with Liam.   My sister had the longest wait to go on the zip line with him and she did amazing keeping him calm and engaged while they were waiting together.

Every time these family members have an opportunity to spend time with Liam in a safe and supported environment, they feel more and more confident interacting with and supervising him. That is a win-win for all of us.

So, what about you?  What things can you consider doing to help your extended family members, friends, and support system feel comfortable and confident in interacting with your loved one who has a disability or other special needs? 

When you choose to proactively “coach” and support those people in their growth and understanding, everyone in your family wins!