Raising a Child With a Disability
When you’re about to have a child, you prepare for everything. You paint the nursery, you buy the crib and you do a million other things. And no matter how much you prepare, you will never be ready for a child, but you do your best. One thing many parents don’t consider though, is raising a child with a disability. If you aren’t exposed to the world of disability, you might feel lost and unsure what to do next. So, we compiled a list of eight important reminders all parents who discover their child has a disability or special need should consider.
1. When you find out, realize that this is not bad news, it’s just news
Your first reaction after learning your child has a disability may have been one of panic and disbelief. You might be worried that your child will not be able to live a fulfilling life or that their disability will keep them from being happy. But the simple truth is that this is not so. While their disability may cause them to do some things differently than other children, this does not limit their capacity for happiness. You also need to know that raising a child with a disability, just like raising any child, can be difficult at times, but rest assured that it is worth it. All the difficulties you go through with your child will end up bringing the two of you closer and strengthen your relationship.
2. You don’t have to do this alone
Unlike in the past, today there a ton of resources available to you as you take on the challenges associated with disability. Right here in New Jersey, you can find special education services in mainstream schools, government funding for equipment, services, and even camp programs. For example, Camp Merry Heart is Easterseals New Jersey’s camp specifically designed with accommodations for children and adults with disabilities in mind. You can find funding to assist with tuition through programs like PerformCare and the Division on Developmental Disabilities. And don’t worry, once your child “ages out” of school, there are still plenty of resources available to adults as well.
3. Every child is affected by disability differently
You should never compare your child with others whether they have a disability or not. Every child is unique and the same holds true for a child with a disability as well. For example, don’t ever assume that one child with autism will act the same way as another with the same diagnoses. This could lead you to place undue pressure on your child to measure up to a standard that isn’t right for them. That being said, it can be very helpful to join a support group of parents whose child has the same disability as your child for encouragement and support. They can also refer you to all sorts of valuable resources (doctors, after school programs, etc.) that you might have never heard of otherwise.
4. Set achievable goals and tasks for your child
We all want our children to grow and develop, but we need to have the right expectations as they achieve goals and reach milestones. It is vital you not let pessimism set the expectations for what your child can achieve, but it is also important not be unrealistic either. A good balance would be setting realistic goals for your child but never limiting them, because being afraid to challenge your child when progress is being made can have a negative impact on their growth as well. Also, when your child does accomplish a task or goal, it’s important to give praise for the accomplishment no matter how big or small it was.
5. Your child is more than their disability
It is important to know that your child is more than just their disability. While you are raising a child with a disability, at times your child’s needs may feel like an overwhelming force in your lives. It is important to remember their disability is only one aspect of their lives and it does not define them or who they are. What defines your child are ALL their attributes, qualities, and characteristics – it is important to keep these aspects of your child in your mind, not to focus on only one.
6. Focus on finding ways for your child to achieve their goals
A lot of times parents can fall into the trap of only looking at what their child cannot do rather than what they can. This mindset is easy to slip into and can be very damaging for your child’s long-term development. Instead focus on your child’s strengths and how you can build on them. For example if they love to read, buy them lots of books. You also need to realize what areas your child struggles in and find ways to build on those weaknesses and overcome them. This mindset will help your child better achieve their goals.
7. Be prepared for people who don’t understand your child’s disability
In an ideal world all people would be completely understanding of your child and their disability and fully educated on what it means. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and it’s important to be prepared for when other people or even other parents make inappropriate or rude comments about your child. When handling negative comments there are many different techniques to use depending on the comment and situation. You can use the opportunity to educate someone or just let the comment go and move on. Remember, your child’s greatest advocate, is you. This will be true until they get old enough to advocate for themselves, and even then, you want them to have a good role model to learn from – so don’t shy away from being that role model.
8. Talk to your family and friends about your child’s disability
One of the most important things you can do as you are raising a child with a disability is to talk about your child’s needs with your friends and family. Not only can this help educate them but it also helps them be more supportive of you and your child. Talking to your partner is also important. Talking to your partner can be helpful in supporting each other and keeping the relationship strong when times are tough. Your support group should comprise of people you trust and love.
It’s Never Easy, But It’s ALWAYS Worth It
Raising a child is never easy, especially when a disability is thrown into the mix – but then again no one ever said being a parent was easy. It is one of the most difficult and demanding things a person can do. However it’s also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do with your life and that does not change when your child has a disability. And the one thing you can always rely on when times get tough, is the unending LOVE you feel for your child.
The above list provides you with just a few basic things that every parent should know, but if you have any other advice or words of encouragement for other parents who have a child with a disability, please let them know in the comments below and if you’re looking for services, please visit our website to see our offerings.