Supporting the family: Parenting your child with special needs

Much of how you raise your child with special needs will depend on your family’s personal beliefs about childrearing, your child’s age, and the nature of his or her disability.

An important point to remember is that most of the regular child-raising issues will apply — children with disabilities will go through the usual childhood stages. They may not go through stages at the same age, at the same rate, or use the same words as children without disabilities, but they are children and kids are kids.

supporting-family-parenting-special-needs-kids

by Carole Brown, Samara Goodman and Lisa Küpper

We, as parents, may believe that all children should be treated the same, but in practice that is usually not the case. Why? Because anyone who has been around children, even infants, knows they have different personalities and react differently to similar situations.

We encourage and coax the shy child and set limits for the rambunctious one. We tell the loud ones to be quiet, and the quiet ones to speak up. We offer different activities to the child who loves to paint than to the one who wants to play ball.

Children just are not the same — but they should have the same opportunities.

Move toward independence…

Among their opportunities should be the chance to assume increasingly greater degrees of responsibility and independence. There may be many ways in which your child can help himself or herself or other members of the family, including doing chores around the house. You will need to consider what these activities might be, given your son or daughter’s disabilities and capabilities. As you expect and encourage your child to assume responsibility, his or her sense of pride and competence will also increase.

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Conversely, to not expect or encourage your child to contribute to self-care or household matters may send the message that he or she is not capable of helping. Dependence is fostered instead. As one mother insists, “Let him do things for himself. Don’t baby him. My father-in-law noticed how Chrissy can manipulate people very well… [His] comment was, ‘Boy, he wouldn’t walk anywhere if he could find someone to carry him all over.’ Yup. That’s why we don’t carry him!”

… but also accept your child with special needs for who he or she is

Of course, the nature and severity of your child’s disability may affect how much he or she is able to participate in household duties and so on. Peggy Finston remarks:



The issue, then, for each of us is what is a “realistic” amount of normality to expect from our child? If we expect too much, we run the risk of rejecting him as he is. If we expect too little, we will fail to encourage him to do the most he can with himself. There is no one answer for all of us, or even for all of us dealing with the same condition. The best we can do is to realize that this is an ongoing question that we need to consider.

Another issue that may concern you is what (or whether) to tell your child about his or her disability. As with siblings, the child with special needs may also have a need for information and perspective about what makes him or her different.

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Now my hug becomes tighter, closer. I feel my breath in his tousled hair.

“Will, do you ever wonder why you get so scared when something comes out of the blue, why it upsets you so much?”

He sniffles. “Yeah.”

I hesitate. I’m feeling terribly warm. I never wanted to introduce my child to the label someone else created for him. And yet an instinct tells me it may help him…

This is how Kelly Harland describes the conversation she had with her son when she told him about his disability, autism.

And now he’s still. He has calmed down. He’s listening.

… And silence, as I try to imagine where to go next. Maybe I’m all wrong. Maybe I should never have used that word. But an odd rush comes over me. It feels like, with this tentative back-and-forth, we’ve suddenly crashed through some floodgate… Has Will known for awhile that he has a problem; has he been waiting for his mom to explain it to him? There is in all this talk something for both of us to hold onto, maybe in this one moment a way to quell the terror, or even rise above it.

As your child grows and matures and especially as he or she edges into young adulthood, it may be very helpful for him or her to be able to discuss the nature of the disability. This includes what special accommodations he or she needs in order to succeed in school and other settings.

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You may wish to involve your child in his or her own IEP meeting, which can teach your child useful skills like self-advocacy, expressing personal interests and goals, and being involved in making decisions that affect his or her life. In fact, by law, whenever your child’s transition to life after high school is going to be discussed at an IEP meeting, your child must be invited to attend the meeting.



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