Family relationships and children with disabilities

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All families are different and there are no set rules that can predict how families react and the effect on family relationships when a family member has an accident and gets a spinal or brain injury and a disability.

Because everyone, including you and your family, is so different, you may not agree with all of the ideas discussed here. But it might help you to deal with changes in your family relationships.

Your changed condition might cause tensions within your family. They may want to be able to spend a lot of time with you when you are going through rehabilitation. This may mean that they are closely involved in your adjusting to the changes in your life and will want the best for you.

However, you may feel that they are trying to live your life for you. This can cause tension. But you need to accept that they only want the best for you. They are there for you. Your family will, however, be adjusting to the changes in your life. This might cause them to want to protect you. This is a natural reaction that families have and you will need to work towards re-establishing your independence as part of the family.

A good place to start is to talk to them. Try not to be angry as they are only trying to help you. This is a two-way process and they will need to understand that you are going to be adjusting and trying to find, and regain, your independence.

Through talking with your family and friends you will be able to air your own ideas and decide on the direction you want your life to take. Finding this direction can be difficult. It might mean that you live with your family for awhile after your accident. If this is you, then you and your family will have a chance to adjust together. This can be a good thing.

You, and they, also need to accept that some of your relationships might change over time. After your accident it might be quite acceptable to return to the supported environment of your family.

However, as with any relationship, family interactions change over time and you might want to start re-establishing your social networks while living with your family and even think about moving out.

This can be difficult if they have made changes to the family home and their lifestyle to enable you to be at home with them. This can be confronting as you develop independence so it is important to discuss your thoughts about your future plans with your family.

Other things that your family and you might be adjusting to is the fact that you have difficulty getting into houses and places where you used to share time together. This might happen if you used to have family occasions at Grandma's house, which is a two-storey house. If you use a wheelchair, or have difficulty walking, you might feel cut off from these occasions.

To ease the strain that this causes in relationships, it is a good idea to work together to find a solution. On these family occasions, you might go somewhere different or come up with a different way of entering.

Children need to be encouraged to maintain contact with you as a parent. It's really important that they are allowed to deal with their feelings, but also that they know they can touch you; hug you and climb over you like they always have.

Older children might need to adjust to having their own sense of invincibility challenged by your accident. They might be angry or they might be sad. This is when the relationships within the family might benefit from talking to a counselor

Other family members will also be adjusting to change. If they knew you before your accident they will be dealing with the fact that the person they hung out with is now slightly different. They and you will need to deal with that together.

Hanging out with these people who know you might be the best way to get back into having social contact.

On the reverse, some siblings and extended family members can have difficulties dealing with the fact that you now have a disability.

They also need to get used to the changes that have occurred in your life. Because of these changes, you might be a different person and you all need time to adjust.

You might not remember what you were like before your accident and your family and friends might be dealing with this. If this is you, maybe you could try talking to each other about how you can all cope with the change.

You might decide to join a support group to help you adjust. These support groups have people you can talk to and who can offer you guidance or direct you to the right places.

Often the introduction of new members of the family, in the form of new partners to sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces or nephews can be a breath of fresh air. This can be helpful because, through these newly introduced members, you can be seen as any other member of the family.

Working together as a loving family is the best way to plan and work for change that will be most beneficial for all.

Views from Our Shoes: Growing Up With a Brother or Sister With Special Needs by Donald J. Meyer. Although the number of books about disabled children and family relationships has grown steadily, not many nonfiction books explore the feelings of a disabled child's brother or sister.

This excellent book is a forum for children ranging in ages 4 through 18 to explore their feelings and describe their experiences living with a sibling who has physical and/or mental difficulties.

One young girl describes her 24-year-old brother who is barely verbal and, in her words "is like a 4-year-old child." This young man loves clocks and can watch them indefintely and his sister describes her trips to clock shops so he can watch clocks.

Another child describes providing skilled care for her older brother who is 12 and has a severe case of cerebral palsy.

A brother and sister, in individual installments introduce readers to their sister who has Down Syndrome.

A young boy tells of life with a sibling who has autism.

These are but a few of the heartwarming, gut-wrenching real accounts involved in day-to-day contact with a sibling who has special needs. Each child brings a special brand of input to the table and readers will come away with a sense of empowerment and enrichment.

Views from Our Shoes is an excellent book for families to bond over and explore issues with. It is also an extraordinary teaching tool. If nothing else, it will certainly raise the flag of acceptance. Please read this and share it with somebody.

Living With a Brother or Sister With Special Needs : A Book for Siblings, by Donald Meyer, on family relationships and special needs relationships.

This book lends the voice of hope, confidence and clarity to the experiences many people whose siblings with special needs have. It not only sheds light on many questions that often crop up, it also provides a safe forum to explore any and all sibling related issues.

I like the way Meyer respects his readers’ intelligence. It is so critical, in fact paramount for people to be informed about the special needs their siblings have. That is a good way to foster honest relationships and inclusion within the family. That also promotes acceptance of the members who have special needs.

Living With a Brother or Sister With Special Needs serves as a medical, legal and educational advocate. It provides much needed information about services in these areas. I especially liked the part where people are strongly encouraged and rightfully so to make provisions for their families with special needs and to keep the other children without special needs informed of these decisions.

People with special needs are vital members of their respective families and each person impacts upon the lives of others. That is still another reason why it is so crucial to have frank, open discussions with all the family members so as to keep the lines of communication open and to prevent secrets and fear. The fear of the unknown and the lack of communication causes problems and helps no one.

I wish this book had existed a generation ago! I can't recommend it highly enough and it is a book for everybody, parents; all children; educators; medical professionals and the world at large.I highly recommend this book along with Meyer's other stellar gem,Views from Our Shoes which addresses the needs siblings of people with special needs have.

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