5 Things Every Parent with a Special Needs Child Should Know
While some disabilities can be diagnosed by blood tests before or after birth, others careful observation. Knowing the stages of child development is one way to identify potential delays and disorders. For instance, a lack of pointing and grabbing by age one or failure to walk by 18 months could indicate a developmental or motor delay.
Learning disabilities and other mental disorders may not be obvious until the early school years. Common signs, like trouble concentrating, sleeping, or interacting with others, can sometimes seem like normal child behavior. If they interfere with your child’s learning and quality of life, it is best to arrange an assessment with your child’s school or a private psychologist.
While a diagnosis of mental or physical disability can cause enormous stress on a family, you don’t need to see it as a life sentence. Here are five things every parent should know about life with a child with special needs:
1) Atypical Development is Actually Typical
Although it is common to feel social stigma or even shame, there is nothing wrong or abnormal about atypical development or disabilities. In its latest ten-year report (released in 2016), the CDC reported more than 1 in 7 children in the United States have a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder; one in 68 are on the autism spectrum – difference is not only common in nature, but rule of thumb. It helps to think of a diagnosis, not as a problem, but as a tool for understanding and meeting your child where they are. Your child’s unique strength and perspective can be a source of joy and personal growth for themselves and those around them if fed with positivity and inclusion.
2) Comparisons Only Get You So Far
Making a diagnosis may require you to compare your child’s abilities with other, so you know if they are meeting developmental milestones, reading at grade level, or having trouble learning. However, it can be demoralizing for children when their achievements are measured against those of their typically-developing peers. Similarly, it’s important for parents to remember to give themselves credit.
Children with a developmental delay, mental disorder, or intellectual or physical disability often require care and sacrifices that parents of typical children will never experience. Some children, such as those with Cerebral Palsy or Down Syndrome, may never be able to fully care for themselves or participate in the more challenging social and economic aspects of life, and require care throughout adulthood. At the end of the day, making decisions about your child’s healthcare and other support services can be daunting, but you know your child’s needs better than anyone.
3) Help is Closer Than You Think
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is usually implemented for children with disabilities. IEPs identify your child’s specific needs by laying out a plan designed uniquely for them. It is updated regularly as skills develop and new ones are needed. It is also important to take advantage of any other support services in your community, such as respite care, summer camps, and recreational activities proven to have therapeutic benefits for children with special needs. Support groups (both online and in person) are a great place to find answers and share your story with other parents who ‘get it.’
4) People Can be Cruel – but You Can Handle It
If you are the parent of a child with a disability, you may have already experienced lack of access to things like sports or educational services, discrimination, or downright bullying. Questions and pity from strangers, or even friends and relatives, can get exhausting. Know that you can advocate for your kids (and yourself) by getting informed. If you aren’t sure how, national and local organizations provide education on self-advocacy in schools, extracurriculars, and accessing services. Self-advocacy begins with learning your child’s rights and how to communicate those rights with confidence. Some organizations even provide skills development in the areas of problem-solving, leadership, and public speaking.
5) You Have to Take Care of Yourself, Too
Caregiver burnout occurs when the families of those with special needs overtax their mental, physical, and spiritual energy seeing to their child’s needs. After all the screenings and doctor’s visits, IEP meetings, and managing your child’s care day-to-day, exhaustion can kick in and parents forget or feel guilty about taking care of themselves. Studies show that up to 75% of caregivers of individuals with specials needs experience significant depression and anxiety symptoms, and this can have negative consequences for the whole family. Single parents and married couples alike benefit from social outings, alone time, self-care routines, and even therapy. Rather than being selfish, these breaks ensure you are in the best position to provide for your child’s needs.
Brent Frayser is a media relations representative for SMARTBOX Moving and Storage, who is a graduate of the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor’s Degree of Business Administration (Major in Marketing, Minor in Management). He was born and raised in the south, is very outgoing, with a strong sense of determination. In his spare time, he enjoys: reading, writing, coaching baseball and football, and spending time with family and friends.