Raising a child is an incredibly satisfying and important responsibility. However, parents of special-needs children know that caring for a child who requires assistance for a disability brings its own challenges. It's so important to realize you're not alone: According to the CDC, about one in six children ages 3–17 has one or more developmental disabilities.
If you're caring for a special-needs child, these caregiver support tips can help give you the confidence you need to be the best parent you can be.
1. Advocate for Your Child
As a parent, you're a natural advocate for your children, says the Council on Developmental Disabilities. Because you know your children better than anyone else, taking an active role in advocating for their welfare and best interests is important. To be effective, remember these advocacy skills:
- Gather information. Gather facts, information, and documents about your child's disability and educational history.
- Learn your rights. Know your legal rights as a parent and those of your child. Educate yourself about your local school district and understand how -- and by whom -- decisions are made.
- Ask and listen. Don't be afraid to ask questions to understand positions and policies.
- Offer solutions. Negotiate with schools for special-education services. Discuss issues and make proposals.
- Lend your voice. Advocate to your elected officials, such as local school-board trustees and legislators who are responsible for creating budgets, policies, or laws that affect special-needs children.
2. Do Your Research
While each child is an individual, it is important to understand the disability. Educate yourself on its common characteristics or behaviors; how it may affect home, school, social, and daily activities; and its effective and experimental treatments or interventions. Gather information from sources such as health care professionals, books, websites, agencies, and other parents who have experienced the same fears and aspirations that you have for your child.
3. Know Where to Get Help
There are numerous resources that offer information, services, and recreation for families with special needs. Local government and nonprofit agencies are available to serve special-needs children, including local education agencies (public schools) and county health and human services departments. Most hospitals have patient advocates who can help guide you through the ever-changing and complex web of health care programs and providers available to you. In addition, there are national organizations with websites or local chapters geared toward many specific disabilities.
4. Join a Community
Having a child with special needs can be isolating and exhausting. Consider joining or creating a caregiver support group, which can be an invaluable resource for like-minded parents. Hearing stories and tips and receiving support from other parents who understand what you're experiencing will help alleviate your stress.
5. Practice Good Self-Care
As a parent of a special-needs child, sometimes it's hard not to feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Remember that caregiver support -- specifically, supporting yourself -- is just as vital as supporting your child. Not taking time for yourself can lead to anxiety, anger, and burnout. Eating healthy food, participating in exercise and other enjoyable activities, getting plenty of rest, and asking for assistance from others are all essential actions to maintaining physical and emotional balance.