5 Things Parents of Children with Special Needs Should Know

Parenting is often a stressful job. Juggling children’s schedules, carpools, activities and homework can wreak havoc in any home. If you have a child with special needs, you may be adding therapy appointments, school management issues, doctor appointments and more to this mix. You can easily become worn out, over-stressed or even depressed. Since your child relies on you, it is important for you to attend to staying healthy both physically and emotionally. What follows are five simple, common sense steps to help you keep yourself feeling confident and strong.

1. Seek out support. 

Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed and struggling to look for help. Find people who have children with similar special needs. You will be surprised at how much help, support and information you may receive from them. In your community, check with your school district to see if they offer a Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) or similar support group. Even of other members have children with different needs than yours, you will find many common topics to discuss. Check your library or the Internet for national organizations that cover your child's disability. Often, they offer support for parents through conventions, workshops and publications. There are online groups and listserves (email discussion groups) that deal with virtually every disability. People are only too willing to share their experiences and offer advice, tips and resources. Support can come in many forms and help you in ways you don’t expect.

2. Take time out for yourself. 

Even if you feel pressed for time, you need to carve out time to focus on yourself. Set aside your daily chores or work for a little while. Take an hour once a day or even once a week and do something just for you. Exercising, getting a manicure or visiting a local park or place of interest can be refreshing and serve to renew your perspective. Don’t put off things you wan to do until your child is older, or you feel he doesn’t need you as much. By fulfilling some of your needs, you will be happier and more able to tackle issues that may come your way.

3. Cultivate friendships. 

You and your child will both benefit if you make an effort to meet and get to now your neighbors and their children. If your child is in a special school rather than the local public school, this is especially important. Friendships made outside the realm of your child’s educational environment can be especially rewarding for you, your child and the other children as well. Children learn compassion and patience when they get to know others not quite like them. By introducing yourself and your child around your neighborhood, you will make some new friends and will not feel so isolated from the community.

4. Follow you gut instincts. 

Always remember that you are the expert on your child. No one knows him better than you do. If you feel that a doctor, teacher, or other professional does not understand your child’s needs, find another one. Just because someone has a degree or reputation in a particular field doesn’t mean that they are the right one for your child. The decisions you make with your medical and other professionals can have long-term effects on your child’s life. Make sure you are comfortable with them.

5. Do your own research. 

Knowledge is truly power. Don’t rely on the “experts” to make decisions for you and your child. Think of yourself as a member of your child’s team. Find out what you can about all aspects of your child’s disability. Learn about the latest medical treatments and technology available. Ask to meet people who have already experienced these. They will be one of your best sources of information. Research the social and emotional aspects of your child’s disability. The earlier you are informed and the more you know of pertinent information, the better off you and your child will be.

Parenting a child with special needs can be time-consuming and at times, frustrating. Your personal needs should not be swept aside while your child is growing up. Your frame of mind plays an important role in effective parenting and decision-making. Keep these tips in mind so that you can feel content with yourself and confident in your decisions. By following these steps, you and your family will all reap the rewards.

—Paula Rosenthal, J.D.