Just under 10 million U.S. children under the age of 18 have special needs. Under this umbrella are children who have developmental, physical, or emotional needs that require special health and educational services.
Any parent can tell you that parenting is challenging. Special needs parents face a whole set of challenges that make their role as a caregiver tougher and more time-consuming.
If you're parenting a child with special needs and you are feeling worn out or as though you've hit a roadblock, we understand.
That's why we've come up with eight tips for special needs parents that will improve your relationship with your child, your partner, and even yourself. Read on to learn more.
1. Face Your Child's Diagnosis Head On
It can be hard for special needs parents to grapple with their child's diagnosis, especially when symptoms were delayed and became apparent later in their development. However, it's important that caregivers work with a doctor they trust and accept the diagnosis so that the necessary steps can be taken right away.
Remember that a special needs diagnosis is not the loss of your child. It certainly changes the trajectory of their life and yours, but you still have the same child you know and love.
2. Create a Routine
Studies have found that all kids benefit from a routine and that having things like set mealtimes and consistent bedtimes give kids better social-emotional health. Many special needs kids struggle with socialization and emotional expression, to begin with, which means that a home routine is even more crucial for them.
Sticking to a routine at home can help your special needs child to adjust to transitions throughout the day. When you eliminate the fear and confusion of not knowing what will happen next, they will have an easier time focusing on the tasks in front of them, such as going to school or going to the doctor.
3. Stay Organized
Special needs parents know that finding specialists who can work with their kids can be extremely difficult. Depending on the child's needs, you may not be able to go to the salon around the corner for your child's haircut or the dentist's office that's only a few miles away.
Compile a list of specialists that know how to work with your special needs child. Try to make appointments well in advance when possible and factor in extra time to prepare your child emotionally and mentally on the days you have them.
4. Make Playtime and Educational Activities Suitable to Their Needs
Every child deserves the opportunity to play and learn throughout the day. However, some of the toys sold by mainstream retailers simply aren't suitable for your child's needs. This can become frustrating and even hazardous.
Our specially crafted task bins are designed to help your special needs child develop crucial tactile and verbal skills at their own pace. Likewise, our adapted books make reading time a joy by combining important, multifunctional words with helpful visual cues. These resources can improve your special needs child's experience with playtime and educational activities!
5. Attend Family Counseling
Finding the right family counseling can make a huge difference not just in your relationship with your special needs child but also with your partner and yourself. Having a third party to listen and provide professionally informed feedback can help you work through the emotional needs you feel aren't being met.
In fact, we would recommend seeking counseling even if you'd prefer to go alone. Special needs parents have a lot on their plate and can't always make time for themselves to work through their own stressors. Having regular counseling sessions can make a big difference in your feeling of caregiver burnout.
6. Ask for Help
In addition to the help of a counselor, you should ask for help from friends, family members, and trained specialists when you need it. It can be a lot harder to leave a special needs child with a babysitter to take a night off or attend to your other responsibilities. Finding people you trust and fostering a positive relationship between them and your child is crucial.
7. Factor in Time for Adult Conversation
Try to find at least a few minutes a day to have an adult conversation with your partner. This means checking in with each other's needs or even having a good laugh together.
When you are the parents of a special needs child, it can be hard to treat each other like anything but parents. Taking some time each day to acknowledge one another as individuals and as partners can help to strengthen and maintain your relationship.
8. Create Positive Associations
In spite of any stress, anger, or meltdowns your special needs child has when experiencing new or unfamiliar things, try to focus on the positive. At the end of each day, walk them through the activities they did, the places they went to, and the people they interacted with. Talk about the upsides to all of these things.
That doesn't mean ignoring the negative. You can discuss the strong emotional or visceral reactions your child had. As you do, remind them that they made it through that experience and point to any positive moments along the way.
Creating positive associations for your child can help them uncover skills they didn't know they had while encouraging them not to shy away from new things. It also shows them that you are listening to their needs and that you are always on their side, even when you are pushing them slightly out of their comfort zone.
More Resources for Special Needs Parents
Special needs parents are resilient and resourceful. We never stop learning about new ways to help our children grow, learn, and experience true joy in life.
A great way to adapt to all of life's challenges with special needs children is to be a part of a community of special needs parents and educators. If you'd like to be part of our community, bookmark our blog where we post helpful articles and resources on a regular basis.