Every kid is different – and – some kids have special circumstances and therefore need special types of attention.
If you are the parent of a child with special needs, then this article is for you.
In our work we talk to all kinds of families. Our conversation with parents and siblings of kids with special needs have taught us that the whole family comes to have special needs.
Being a Parent of a Child with Special Needs
Chances are you suspected your child had special needs long before receiving a specific diagnosis. When a doctor makes it “official” it can be equal parts relieving and heart wrenching.
Now that you have a clear understanding of your child’s needs you can create a more targeted care plan.
However, your mind also races – turning over all challenges your child will have to overcome.
Or perhaps you are a parent who has a child with exceptional prodigy level aptitude?
This is a segment of the special needs population that is often overlooked.
In both instances, children with special needs struggle to get their needs met in a mainstream setting.
While it is absolutely important to get clear on ways you can support your child with special needs, it is also important to help them normalize their experience in a world that is often cruel to difference.
In other words, address the unique needs of your child, but remain mindful – don’t obsess over this point of difference. Find ways to celebrate their fullness.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out our article “Empowerment Parenting – How We Can Stop the Overprotective Parenting that is Destroying Our Children” consider checking it out.
All kids need to feel empowered, especially kids who may have more difficulty in a mainstream school setting.
Much of what we have discussed thus far can be addressed in the home setting.
However, around age 7 or 8 when social interactions with peers become more in-depth, you will want to pay extra attention to your child. School yard politics are tough – these new interpersonal challenges can compound with intrapersonal challenges and overwhelm your child.
What we’ve seen work well is to connect kids with a slightly older kid who is living with the same challenges. The critical element – of course – is that this “mentor” has learned to live and thrive despite their diagnosis etc.
Having someone to look to as a role model gives kids hope and can expose them to coping skills that have been proven to work for other kids.
Look for conferences, Facebook groups, and summer camps built around your child’s specific presentation.
Being a Parent of a Special Needs Family
Rich Legacy contributor Charlie Birch explains,
“Early on in my career I worked as a behavioral aid to kids with special needs. Time and again I saw how these kids were effected – be it positively or negatively – by their home environment. Kids who came from high functioning families – who had positive relationships with their siblings, whose parents had a positive relationship (romantic or otherwise) – were far more likely to excel. Kids who came from high stress homes, with strained relationships – or kids who were coddled – struggled in ways that moved far beyond their special needs.”
When one member of the family has special needs, the whole family has special needs. Nothing and no one exists in isolation. We are all connected.
It is so important to look at the big picture of how the reality of parenting a special needs child impacts you, your spouse, your relationship with your spouse, your other children, and your relationship with your other children.
Parenting 1.01 – Put Your Oxygen Mask On First!
Parenting is a selfless act. This is a common mantra. If you google it you will find 428,000 results!
While there is truth to this, it is often misused and abused. When you are truly selfless – you have no sense of self. If you have no sense of self, you can not instill a sense of self in your child. The result – aimless wandering and self neglect.
You can not give of yourself if there is no self to give.
Instead consider that parenting is an egoless act. If that is a bit too existential for you, consider the this advice from Dr. Darla Clayton, PsyD a contributor to Abilities.com.
She asserts that every parent of a child with special needs must hear these 20 things:
- You are not alone.
- You too deserve to be cared for.
- You aren’t perfect—and that’s ok!
- You are a superhero.
- Therapy is play.
- Play is Therapy
- Make time to enjoy your kids (all of them)
- You will be obligated to make heart wrenching decisions.
- You won’t always get it right.
- Forgive yourself.
- Being a parent is hard. Being a parent to a child with extra needs is extra hard.
- Parenting a child with extra needs is like a marathon.
- Don’t lose yourself.
- Keep your sense of humor.
- Celebrate the little things!
- Don’t let typical parents get you down.
- Don’t compare.
- You don’t have to be “THAT” parent.
- Make time for your marriage.
- Trust your instincts.
Being a Parent to the Sibling of a Special Needs Child
Being a sibling to a child with special needs is a special need all it’s own. The kids we’ve talked to – who are members of special needs families – express (directly or indirectly) that the additional attention their siblings receive is difficult for them.
If this dynamic remains an elephant in the room and is not addressed explicitly, kids can feel forgotten. This nagging sense of insignificance can lead to attention seeking behavior, as well as, having a negative impact on the self-esteem of the child with special needs.
Just like time, attention is a limited resource. Keep in mind that for the average kid the quality of attention they receive is much more important than the quantity of attention.
Check out some of our other articles for ideas about how to increase the quality of time you spend with your “sibling” child:
5 Strategies That Will Make You An Amazing Dad
5 Questions All Boys Need Answered By Their Father
Conclusion – Parent and Nurture a Special Needs Family
Whether your child diagnosis give you comfort, evokes fear, or a combination of both – you are not alone. Your child is not defined by their diagnosis and neither is your family. Finding the right balance between special attention and normality can take time. Lead with love and if you find you need extra support the Rich Legacy team is always hear to support you!
Are you the parent of a special needs family?
Share your experience in the comments section below.