Disabilities among children are on the rise in the US — in fact, roughly one in seven children between the ages of three and seventeen have a developmental disability while over 35% have a physical disability of some kind, statistics from the Office of Population Affairs reveal. Raising a child with complex needs is a rewarding yet challenging journey. As a parent, it’s important you equip yourself with the knowledge needed to give your child the best support possible.
Research the condition
Take the time to learn everything you possibly can about your child’s condition. This crucial first step allows you to better support your child’s ongoing development and recognize symptoms and medical complications if and when they arise. For example, as well as communication difficulties and repetitive behavior, children diagnosed with autism can experience further symptoms you may not expect, such as, gastrointestinal trouble, difficulty sleeping and/or eating, and seizures.
Alternatively, children with cerebral palsy require certain cerebral palsy medications to treat and prevent various symptoms. For example, spasticity or hypertonia, chronic pain in the upper and lower back, hips, knees, and ankles, and seizures commonly occur with the condition. It’s essential to consult your doctor (who’s familiar with your child’s medical history) when considering treatment for your child whether it be medication, therapy, or surgery. Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms and predispositions associated with your child’s condition will ultimately allow you to better advocate for your child at home, the doctor’s office, and school.
When their child is first diagnosed with a disability, it’s common for parents to experience a range of overwhelming emotions, including shock, anxiety, fear, and despair. They may also feel isolated, ashamed of their child’s disability, and depressed the hopes and dreams they may have had for their child won’t become a reality. These are completely normal and common reactions to have, so be gentle with yourself.
When you’re ready, consider getting individual or couples therapy with your partner — it’s an excellent tool to help you process your feelings with a qualified professional. Joining a support group specifically for parents of children with developmental disabilities can also be beneficial. Support groups connect you with parents in similar positions and help you realize you’re not alone. You can share your experiences, successes, and frustrations, and receive advice and support from parents who have either gone through or are currently going through the same or similar situations as you.
Look forward to unexpected milestones
Children with special needs don’t tend to achieve set cognitive, physical, and social milestones at the typical age of their peers. Every child is unique and yours will inevitably progress on their own path at their own pace — and it’s a beautiful journey to be a part of as a parent. In fact, you’ll learn to look forward to and appreciate milestones that other parents may take for granted, whether it’s their first word, tying their own shoes, or taking their first step. Also keep in mind that treatments for certain disorders can help support your child’s development — for example, “Applied Behavioral Analysis” has been shown to greatly aid development in children with ASD. Don’t hesitate to consult your doctor or specialist if you have questions or concerns about your child’s development. It’s important you do all you can to help your child achieve his or her full potential.
Parenting of any kind is no easy feat and raising children with special needs naturally comes with its own set of challenges. Knowing how to advocate for your child and establishing a support system is key to helping your child develop and thrive.