Parenting a Child With Special Needs

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More and more parents are faced with the challenges of raising a child with special needs. In the United States alone, about one in six children have one or more developmental disabilities or delays. They are the children that have impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior areas, and therefore require special care.

The moment the doctor gives you the diagnosis that your child has special needs, you know that life is going to be more challenging – not only for your child, but for you as a parent as well. You know that some things will need to be done differently.

Raising children in general is daunting enough. Now think about parenting children with special needs. You turn to doctors, educators, books, support groups, and parents just like yourself. But at the end of the day, it’s you and your child. You make the decision that your child is going to be alright. Nothing is ever going to be easy, but when done right, nothing is impossible.

You are not a superhero

Before you even get to developmental goals, you must re-examine yourself first as a parent. You are not Supermom. Raising a child with a disability will certainly have your hands full. Soon enough, you will realize that you won’t have the time and the energy to do the things that even “regular moms” have challenges with – like cooking meals, keeping the home tidy, helping your other kids do their homework, and even just discussing how your husband’s day at work went.

As a parent of a child with special needs, you may find yourself feeling insecure, lonely, and exhausted. You may hear a lot of cliches, with the intention of being supportive, such as, “This happened for a reason,” but you won’t believe any of them. You may feel guilty and defensive about the situation. Lisa Smith, a mother of two special kids, wrote in a blog for the organization Autism Speaks, that things get hard when you realize that your child is missing out on a lot of things. For example, when they try to do things on their own, they may get hurt – and parents get hurt even more. “We just have to watch, hands tied, while they struggle. Sometimes our kids’ pain, anxieties, and fears are incapacitating and there is nothing we can do to relieve them. I become physically ill myself,” she recounts.

Parenting a special needs child can be exhausting and frustrating. It is also very expensive, and many parents find themselves deep in debt. However, they are rich with small triumphs that suddenly mean the world to them.

Help is on the way

You have probably read every book and online journal about your child’s condition. Part of you is still hoping it isn’t real, and another part is slowly accepting it. Raising a special needs child, you will constantly be updating yourself with developments and breakthroughs, however minor they seem. In short, parents of special children are encouraged to be experts in their own right. After all, no one knows your child better than you do.

There are new programs of therapy that are constantly being developed. Every single one of them is a reminder that help is on the way and that you are not going through this alone. Every single program renews hope that things can get better. The good news is that most of these new programs are fun. There is animal-assisted therapy, music, adventure camps, and even yoga for children with special needs.

Technology is also on your side in our current age. Now, there are enabling devices and assistive technology. There have never been this many great toys for special children, too. They are commonly known as “adapted toys.” These are toys that teach cause and effect, teach gestures and improve instincts, and aid progress and creativity.

There are also mobile applications that parents can download. They are designed to cut stress and worry in raising special children. Parents are encouraged to take advantage of these breakthroughs to help in the development of the special needs child and make parenting a little more fun.

Play as therapy

Your child may have special needs, but one thing remains the same – she is still a kid. Take it easy on her. Play is the cornerstone of child development – for those with special needs or not. Play improves a child’s motor skills, critical thinking, emotional expression, creativity, and coordination. Allowing kids to play on a playground exposes them to other kids and improves their communication and socialization skills. Playing, however, is not as easy for children with special needs because of cognitive and physical challenges. Not to mention the threats of bullies, rejection, and getting physically hurt. But, as a parent you don’t want to deny him the joy – and even the pain – of childhood.

Play itself is good therapy. It is good to know that even legislators in some countries have come to realize this. Playgroundequipment.com describes how Federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public playgrounds to include playground equipment and materials that will provide special needs children with the same play opportunities. Inclusive designs for more accessible playground equipment are also required.

Play is central to a child’s learning, and it is the fundamental way that children prepare for the future. A study by the organization Courage Center showed that children who do not have an opportunity to play by the age of two will not progress at the same rate as their peers. Imagine how much longer it would take for a special needs child to catch up. Play is enjoyable and natural for kids. The group also found that it is a natural way to teach kids to read, write, and solve problems. Play is a natural caregiver.

There is nothing easy about raising a child with special needs. The brand of parenting it requires is not for the faint-hearted. Take advantage of all the help you can get, re-examine your parenting strategies every now and then, and don’t forget to have some fun with your precious child.

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Jeanette Anzon is a graduate of Architecture. She enjoys photography, sketching, arts, film, writing and continuous education. To get to know her more, you can follow @jeanetteanzon

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