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For a parent, there is likely nothing more debilitating than finding out that your child has special needs. The very thought that your child will face additional challenges growing up in an already difficult world, is heart-wrenching. It becomes easy for feelings of helplessness, self-doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, and anger to set in as you question how life will be for you, your special needs child, and the rest of your household.
What Does Special Needs Mean?
Special needs is a blanket term for a group of conditions or complications that may require a person to need assistance, accommodations, or services. This can include physical disabilities like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or epilepsy; developmental disabilities like down syndrome or autism; mental, or behavioral disorders like ADD; or sensory disabilities like Stromme syndrome.
How it Impacts Families
Children diagnosed with such conditions will require assistance in a number of areas (e.g., educational, daily activities, etc.). This experience is not only emotionally and physically overwhelming for your child, but for you and the rest of your family as well. The amount of time, energy, and resources that will be required to care for your special needs child can eventually put a strain on everyone.
Overworked parents begin to neglect their own needs, their level of stress and anxiety increase, and their relationship with each other can become strained. These changes are visible to other children in the home. At the same time, your other children may start to feel neglected and even resent their sibling as a result of all the time, attention, and energy mom and dad exhaust and the many changes that have been made to their lives as a result of their sibling’s diagnosis.
What to Do About It
Changes to your family dynamics are sure to occur after finding out that your child has special needs. These changes are also most certainly going to cause some emotional distress for everyone. Though it will be stressful at times, you can raise a happy and healthy family. Below are some suggestions on how to get through it:
Learn All You Can
Before you get ahead of yourself emotionally, it is important to learn all that you can about your child’s condition. Find out what may have caused it, what your child might experience, how best to care for your child, and what treatment options are available (medical and alternative). You can learn this information by talking to your doctor and other specialists, doing some careful research online, or talking to other parents in similar situations.
Talk to Your Family
This next step might be challenging, but you’re now equipped with a ton of information to provide you with peace of mind and to answer any concerns your family may have. Gather the other members of your household together to discuss what’s going on. Explain what this means and what changes they might expect. Then, give them the floor to express their feelings and ask questions. Before ending the conversation, let everyone know that you are there for them and keep the lines of communication open.
Raising children is already a stressful job. When they have special needs, however, this stress is multiplied. The good news is, you don’t have to go through this journey alone. Reach out to family members and friends for assistance with your family. If you don’t have family you can turn to, there are support groups with parents, educators, therapists, religious leaders, coaches, mentors, and other adults you can enlist to assist you going forward.
Create New Routines
Household routines and schedules will likely need to change in some way to accommodate your special needs child. Review yours to determine what changes will need to be made. If necessary, reach out to your group of supporters for help. For example, your mom could take your other children to after school practice or rehearsals while you prepare meals at home. After developing a new system, communicate this to your family so everyone is on the same page.
Make Time for Everyone
It is important to personalize your time with everyone in the household. This helps to reduce feelings of neglect and resentment. Plan weekly date nights with your significant other and leave the kids with someone you trust or ask your partner to watch the children while you have one-on-one time with each child doing something they enjoy. Also, don’t forget to make time for yourself. Whether it’s a 15-minute meditation session in the morning or a relaxing bath at the end of the day, alone time can help you to gather your thoughts, re-channel your energy, and reduce stress.
At the end of the day, all loving parents want to raise a happy and healthy family. When challenges like a child with special needs change life as you know it, it can be easy to give up on that goal. Don’t be discouraged, however, as it’s not impossible. With some lifestyle changes and the right team supporting you, you and your family can lead otherwise happy lives.