Raising a child is a huge and challenging responsibility for any family. When that child has a physical or intellectual disability or a mental health condition, these challenges can seem even more difficult to overcome. Children with disabilities might have special educational needs or need some more specialist equipment or support. Parents of children like this might need more practical and emotional support themselves too to help to cope with the demands from their child.
Image – free for commercial use
Getting to know families dealing with similar struggles can give you a much-needed support network, enabling parents and carers to share help and advice and to lend an understanding ear when discussing the unique challenges of parenting a disabled child.
Preparing for a child with a disability
The arrival of a new family member will always mean a big change and, if that new arrival has some type of disability, those changes can be even bigger. It is normal for this to be a worry and cause some stress.
If the child’s disability can be diagnosed before birth, this does give you a bit of time to prepare and talk to some networks that can offer you support and advice. Being told that your baby will have a disability is rarely easy. Every case is unique and no parents will react in the same way. You should feel able to express your feelings about the news and reactions to the diagnosis without worrying about being judged by those around you.
Ultimately, being able to accept the diagnosis and the prognosis will have to come alongside a period of adaptation, getting things ready to provide a good quality of life and wellbeing for the baby, as well as making some preparations for the future.
Although some of these preparations might not be all that different from the preparations made by any other parent, in that they want the best for their child, the means and resources for making those preparations certainly can.
Research your child’s disability now and keep researching
Do as much research as you can about your child’s condition and disability. The more that you know about the condition, the more you will be able to help them and feel confident in helping them. This first research phase should include speaking to professionals who can explain what is happening with your child, as well as how you can help to support them at each stage of their development as they grow up. You can use this time to find support networks, professionals, and charities that can help to give you the support and advice that you need and give you information and access to the latest therapies suitable for your child’s condition. Some of these therapies can help to improve and maintain your child’s muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and motor skills.
Support groups can also be a good place to make friends with parents who understand what you’re dealing with, and learn practical tips for day-to-day life with a disabled child, whether that’s the best therapies, or just where to buy cool wheelchair or walker bags.
This research stage may also include looking into what grants and provisions may be available for your you and your child. This may include government benefits, financial support to buy specialist equipment or make adaptions to your home, or to access to appropriate education or transport,
This research will be ongoing as your child grows and their needs change, and to take advantage of any new developments and support as they become available.
Support programs, care centers, and family associations
Schools and other educational institutions, as well as local councils and associations, usually have programs in place for the parents and families of children with disabilities. There are also support groups, both online and in-person, that focus on bringing people together to share their experiences and struggles.
Support programs are important for training and education and can be an important resource means of information. In these programs, you will meet professionals who can give advice on the needs of your child and on how they will continue to grow and develop in the future.
Family associations are intended to offer some moral support, especially during the first few years, which can often be the most challenging and confusing for new parents. Getting to know and spend time with other families that have been through or are going through a similar situation to your own helps you to feel understood, and gives your child the chance to interact with other children with the same disability in a safe, comfortable and supportive place.
Working with the child’s educational establishment
Working together with your child’s education provider can be very important for ensuring your child gets all the support that they require. Having a close relationship with your child’s teacher means that you can more easily give them appropriate updates about your child so that they can adapt their lesson plans to give your child the best opportunities in terms of teamwork, social integration, and relationship building, as well as the more traditional educational focuses of literacy and numeracy.
Socialize with other families
Socializing with other families with children with similar disabilities can give you and your child emotional and practical support, allowing your child to interact with people they can relate to and build friendships. This can really help them with their emotional development. During your research, you will probably come across some groups and clubs that aim to engage children with disabilities with sports, as well as offering different activities in line with their interests. Don’t be afraid to give these clubs a try. You might build some strong friendships and develop a support network.
Plan in some play opportunities
Informal play dates and other opportunities to be around other people, like arranging a small party for your child’s birthday, are also important. To make the most of these kinds of interactions, pay close attention to which children your child seems to get along with the best, what games and activities they like, and how long a period of socializing they are comfortable with. For some children, shorter periods of socializing can work better.
Don’t be afraid
The idea of trying to make new friends who are in a similar situation to you can seem scary, but try to be brave. It’s often the case that the right people come into your life when you need them.
Socializing with older and younger children
Don’t worry about finding children of the same age for your child to spend time with. Spending time with people of different ages can be helpful. If your child is around younger children, this can help them to take the lead and the responsibility of being the older child. Being with friends with older children can also be useful to them. Their patience and maturity can mean they can engage with your child on a deeper level when chatting about any shared interests.
Consider animal therapy
A pet can go alongside your child’s friendships and can give them a greater sense of happiness and companionship.
Looking after a pet can help your child to develop their sense of responsibility and empathy, as well as giving them an opportunity to show unconditional love.
Taking on a pet is a big responsibility, so only get one if you know your family has the time and resources to be able to give the pet the care and attention it will need. If you can’t care for a pet, children’s farms and zoos can let your children spend time around animals without the responsibility of owning an animal.
Your child has unique abilities
Children with physical disabilities can sometimes feel inadequate when they compare themselves to their peers. This means that it is very important to work to boost their self-esteem. Always be open and honest with your child about the nature of their disability and any limitations that it may place on them, but also make sure to discuss the opportunities that are available to them and the things they can do. It is important that they understand that they are as important as any other person.
Sports can be a good opportunity for to get to know their bodies and start to feel able to overcome any assumed limitations. Sports can also really help with confidence. Speak to the health professionals you found with your research to find out which sports would be most suitable for your child.
The equipment your child uses is also an important part of allowing them to interact with their surroundings and their peers. Your research can help you to find the right pieces, whether that’s wheelchairs, walkers, or positioning chairs. Older children can be a part of choosing what they need, so they feel they have some control over the process.
The most important thing is that your child leads a fulfilling life, combining education and leisure, with fun and responsibility and that you, as parents or carers, support their development and share in their successes.