Parenting a child with special needs is not an easy job. I walk that walk daily. Flexibility and support is required daily to facilitate what they need. That being said, having a child with special needs in your family can be a wonderful experience with the correct guidance and support. Many parents are unaware of all the possibilities. Raising a child with unique needs requires grace, guidance, awareness, and education. With these different ingredients, helping yourself and your child becomes easier with time.
Educating Yourself About Your Child’s Diagnosis
One of the best ways for parents to support their child with special needs includes educating themselves about their child’s diagnosis. Educating yourself helps you understand the symptoms related to their disability, what to expect, ways to help and support, and other related general information. Educating yourself helps you build a stronger relationship with your child and gives you tools to advocate for them. Ways to educate yourself about your child’s disability are independent research, asking their pediatrician or a developmental pediatrician for info, attending seminars or workshops, joining support groups, and asking school administrators (if your child is currently attending school).
You Can’t Fix What’s Not Broken
The phrase “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” is a cliche, right? Depends on the situation. In the case of a child being diagnosed with any kind of disability, parents should never think of their children as “broken.” Think about it; no one person is perfect in this world. There was only one person who was perfect, Jesus Christ. If all of us were perfect, there would be nothing for Him to save us from. Plus, the idea of being broken just sounds, well, sad.
A person who has no control over their circumstances should never be thought of as “broken.” Each child is a blessing, no matter the challenges. No child has ever come with an instruction manual, so we must be flexible, accommodating, and supportive. Meeting our children where they are, encouraging them, and providing ways for them to become better versions of themselves should be our priority.
Services Available to Children with Special Needs
There are many different services available to children with special needs. Some services are provided in the school, some are private practices, and others are in the community.
Some of the services that can be implemented in school via Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan are both under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilites Education ACT) and requires public schools to provide FAPE (Free And Public Education), special education, and other required support services to children with disabilites. Both IEP and 504 services ensure that your child has support in and outside of the classroom for academic success.
An IEP is a plan tailored specifically to your child and the areas they are struggling. IEPs include goals to achieve and what supports will be provided to reach these goals. Progress reports are sent out to parents periodically so parents are aware of progress. IEPs can include services at the school such as occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, counseling services, physical therapy and additional accomodations in the classroom. 504 plans are similar except they do not have goals, but they include accommodations and modifications to their learning. 504s also do not usually implement direct services from a specialist.
Private services or practices are another option for support services for your child
These could include types of therapy such as speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavior therapy, and mental health services. Private services are provided outside a school setting and may be covered by your child’s insurance or paid out-of-pocket.
Community services could include support groups for your child and for parents of children with special needs. These services are beneficial in helping to build a support system and social networks with people who have had similar experiences. Having support is important to understand you are not alone in your journey.
Things to Keep in Mind
There are a few things to consider when choosing or opting for services for your child. Decisions should be made based on what is best for the child. Types of support could be described as follows:
- Occupational therapy– therapy that treats individuals with injuries, illness, or a disability through the use of everyday skills
- Speech/Language therapy- therapy that helps individuals speak and develop language skills. This could also include reading non-verbal cues, voice and sound production and regulation, comprehension, and clarity. This type of care is often confused as only helping with speaking skills.
- Physical therapy- treatment that uses massage, heat, or exercise to improve function and skills.
- Mental Health Services- therapy that helps regulate emotions, thoughts and behaviors. This type of support could be provided in different formats with specialists in a certain area (counselor or interventionist) depending on the area targeted.
When a school examines who should have an IEP, they observe 12 different criteria. Your child must meet THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S CRITERIA to obtain services. The 12 are:
- Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)
- Other Health Impairment (OHI)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Emotional Disturbance (ED)
- Speech or Language Impairment (SLI)
- Visual Impairment (including blindness)
- Hearing Impairment
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Intellectual Disability (ID)
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Multiple Disabilities
In some circumstances, your child may have a diagnosis and not meet the school’s critira for the medical diagnosis and fall under a different diagnosis for IEP. Been there, done that. There are always ways to appeal for your child. Advocacy is crucial!
Private schools are not mandated to provide FAPE or special education. Consider this when deciding the placement of your child into a new school. Ask if they have services, most private institutions do not have special education.
Communicating with Children with Special Needs
Children with special needs have different communication capacities. As a parent of a child needing additional support, this is something that I wish other parents (and family members) considered when talking to my daughter. Everyone communicates differently and those who have a deficit in communication need to be met where they are. Verbal, nonverbal, and written communication can be interpreted differently. Those who are communicating to unique individuals must be sensitive and learn the ways that the individuals they are working with communicate.
For example, if someone wants to communicate with an individual who is hard of hearing, you would face them, make eye contact, and even use sign language. Another example could be an individual that has a disorder that compromises the ability to read body language, facial expressions and sarcasm. When working with them or talking with them, being aware of the expressions you are making and ways we are communicating is important and should be adjusted in a way that makes it easier to understand.
Keeping Your Stress, Anxiety, and Other Emotions in Check
Being a parent of a typical child is stressful and can often leave you feeling as if you have been riding an emotional roller coaster all…day…long. Raising a child who is neurodiverse can leave you feeling this way as well (some days you may even feel more exhausted). Keeping your stress and anxiety in check is an important part of parenting in general. For special needs parents, this is something you HAVE TO consider frequently to avoid harming your mental health.
If you ignore your personal needs, you can burnout which leads to more negative emotions and inability to care for and adequately advocate when you need to. I’ve been there and done that. This is a struggle that I deal with constantly as I also teach kiddos with different needs, and go home to my daughter who is nuerodiverse. Caring for yourself is imperative. You can’t fill a cup of water if your pitcher is empty (a little tidbit from my therapist years ago). Self-care must be practiced.
Some suggestions for keeping your emotions and mental health in a good state are:
- Seeking support from a mental health professional (counselor, therapist, support coach)
- Looking into respite care for your child with special needs so you can get a break or catch up on tasks that need to be completed
- Listen to music
- Reading a book or doing a puzzle
- Exercising or taking a walk
- Going on a date with your spouse
- Reading the Bible or Praying
The self-care you practice for yourself doesn’t need to be anything fancy – just something for you to clear your head, free your mind, and rest your body. Burnout isn’t cool and it can affect not only you, but your child as well. Although you may feel selfish or guilty for taking “me-time,” it is required.
Parenting a child with special needs can be challenging, but without a doubt, it is rewarding. The keys to parenting are educating yourself about your child, thinking of them as they are- a blessing (not broken!!!), practicing meaningful and effective communication, and taking care or yourself (yes you, the parent). Having a child who looks at the world from a different point of you will teach you so much! You will gain a different perspective of the world around you, and you will be thankful and blessed for having the opportunity. You can do this…the keys are in your hands!
Parenting a Child With Special Needs: Info From a Parent of a Child With Special Needs, Educating Yourself About Your Child’s Diagnosis, You Can’t Fix What’s Not Broken, Services for Success, Keeping Your Stress Anxiety and Other Emotions in Check, Conclusion
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