Parenting Special Needs
It’s no secret that being a parent is hard. It’s seemingly impossible to be a perfect parent, and that’s okay; after all, we are all human. While being a parent within itself is difficult, being a parent to a child who has special needs can sometimes be even more difficult. If you look online, there are endless tips and tricks to make life easier. While they all seem great in theory, it’s sometimes hard to apply those tips to your actual life. We found a few tips that aren’t very hard to incorporate in your daily life, yet they can make a huge difference. We also interviewed a parent who knows what it is like to have a son with a disability. Hopefully some of our findings can help you, and your child, to breathe easier.
Keep their sleep schedule regulated. This one sounds like an obvious suggestion, but it makes a bigger difference than you might think. By ensuring that your child gets enough sleep, you will start to notice huge changes in the way that they feel and behave. It’s recommended that children get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep each night, so try to make sure that your child is getting plenty of time to rest. With that being said, it’s important that you, as the parent, are getting enough sleep too! Depriving yourself of sleep will just make things even harder on you.
Encourage independence. This can be difficult depending on the types of special needs that your child requires. We interviewed Karyn, whose son has a physical disability. In regards to encouraging independence, she said, “our son was doted on from the beginning, and he is spoiled in many ways. A lot of things are done for him, but he has a physical disability so that is necessary in most aspects. He is 15 years old now, and we are trying very hard to make him comfortable with being independent. Because of our added attention when he was younger, he is nervous and shy about doing things independently.” While it may be easier and faster to do everything for your child, it’s important to give them the ability and time to accomplish tasks on their own. These tasks could be something small, like picking what they would like to eat (for example, ask them “would you like to have broccoli or spinach today?” Either way, they are eating something green, but they feel like they truly picked what they were going to have.), or something larger (depending on their disability), like putting on their own shoes. No matter what the task at hand is, it’s important that you give them plenty of time to finish it on their own. It may be frustrating when a simple task that you could do for them in two minutes ends up taking twenty, but little things like letting them handle small tasks can change the way they think and feel about themselves. It’s important to let them develop a sense of competence, meaning that they feel as if they are capable of doing things on their own. Like Karyn mentioned about her son, everything was done for him when he was younger, and in turn, he is now nervous and shy about doing things independently. By encouraging independence from a young age, it will be easier to teach them how to be more independent later in life. Odds are, if you’ve been doing everything for them for a long period of time, you may be very surprised by what all they are capable of doing on their own.
A little support can go a long way. This goes for both you, as the parent, and your child as well. Support can look like a lot of different things, from friends and family, to actual support groups, doctors and counselors, or even different organizations. It’s great to have friends and family to rely on for help and moral support, but as Karen said in her interview, “I have some incredibly supportive friends, but none of them have a child of their own with disabilities, so they didn’t always ‘get it’.” Don’t be afraid to reach out further. See if you have a local community center or YMCA, and check to see if they offer any support groups or programs for children who have special needs. Talk to your doctor or counselor, and see if they know where other parents similar to you are finding support. There are a number of organizations, both local and national, that offer programs for children with special needs. One that Karyn mentioned specifically is The Outreach Program (TOP) Soccer. This is a soccer program for kids with disabilities, whether it be mental, physical, emotional, etc. Programs like this can also help your child form friendships, which is extremely important as well. Loneliness can have a dramatic effect on the behavior of those with special needs. Encourage them to socialize, and help to develop (and allow them to develop!) a few deep, constructive friendships. Doing so can help them feel “normal,” as in they will feel less alienated from others due to their disability, it can increase their confidence levels, which is always a good thing, and it can also serve as an outlet to your child. Outlets, whether it be friends, hobbies, art, music, exercise, collections, etc. can help your child a lot, as well. It may also be helpful for both you and your child to seek out other parents who have children with special needs. You guys can support each other, exchange tips and ideas, and provide a true understanding about what each other are going through.
Have confidence in yourself as a parent. Finding out that your child has a disability can be scary because you may doubt yourself. In her interview, Karyn said “…I was scared and felt that I would be a complete failure when it came to taking care of my son with disabilities… It was scary, and I didn’t feel I could handle the extra support that my son was going to need.” It’s natural to feel these things. You don’t have to try to suppress or deny these feelings- you’re allowed to be scared sometimes. On the flip side of that, it’s important to find your balance and reassure yourself that you CAN do it. Following the comments Karyn made about being scared, she added “Now, there have been a lot of moments too, that I have been very proud of myself that I didn’t break, and felt completely in control. It is a challenge, no doubt about that, but he is my son and I will not let him down.” You are going to make mistakes. Parents are not perfect, and you are no exception to that, which is okay! Being too hard on yourself will only make it more difficult. As Karyn mentioned, there have been times where she was proud that she did not break. As a parent, you should be proud of yourself. Celebrate the little things, brag about accomplishment- they’re worth celebrating. Reward yourself and your child when things are going well. With that being said, don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. When asked what she wishes someone would have told her earlier, Karyn shared, “…I wish someone had told me that it is ok that I don’t always give 100%, and that it is ok to have those moments where you breakdown and freak out because times can be so overwhelming.” Instead of focusing on your failures, grow from them, learn from them, and move forward. You’re doing much better than you probably tell yourself that you are.
While there is no one tip to completely change your and your child’s life, these tips, combined with what you learn from your own experiences, can help to make your life easier and more enjoyable. Keep a sense of humor, allow yourself to breathe, and learn as you go. As always, remember that we are here for you, too. Do not be afraid to make an appointment if you are finding that you need a little bit of assistance. Above all, remember that you’re doing fine, and that you can do this.