Parenting is never easy. Those delicate little bundles of joy arrive whether you’re ready or not, and there is no instruction manual. All you can do is love them, follow your instincts and do your best to prepare them for all the challenges of life. But what if your child is disabled in some way? You certainly won’t love them any less, but you’re probably even less prepared to guide them successfully. The learning or developmentally disabled child needs a far different level of attention and communication, and you’ll have to learn how to provide that. The last thing you can do is despair. There are nearly endless resources available to you today, and support groups all over the country for parents and children dealing with similar situations. Don’t waste time with regret, and look forward to a bright and happy future for your child. And if you need assistance, follow these top five tips for parenting a disabled child.
Your first step will always be education. Take the time to learn all you can about your child’s particular disability. No two developmental or learning disabilities are the same, and each comes with its own challenges to overcome and strategies for success. The more information you take in about the disability, the less time you will spend despairing and the better you’ll be able to communicate with your child. You’ll be in a position to help teachers understand your child’s needs, and you’ll understand what sort of strategies to employ to help your child handle each new social situation.
Connection with others is an important developmental step for all children, and your disabled child might need some extra help and attention in that area. So find ways to get him exposed to healthy activities in the community. Just because your child is disabled doesn’t mean he’ll live a solitary life. So get him started early by taking him out to the library, enjoying beautiful days in the park, and joining with social activities at the gym or community center. He may not be able to do things exactly like other children, but finding ways they can still take part will help him create friendships and give him positive social outlets to stave off depression or bad behavior.
Chances are your child will soon understand that he is ‘different’ from other kids, and you must help him cope with the myriad of emotions that will come out of that. He may feel anger at his lot in life, hurt and shame if he is made fun of or fear for the future. You don’t want your child to suppress or ignore those emotions, but to express them in healthy ways. Make sure he has the space to experience those emotions, knows there’s nothing wrong with it and has positive outlets to resolve these complex feelings.
As difficult as it may be, you must teach your child to be responsible for himself. It’s all too easy for a child with developmental disabilities to decide he can do whatever he wants without repercussions. He will always be able to manipulate people to do things for him out of pity. But that road leads to poor self-image and no confidence. Your child must understand that he can do anything he wants, but that will only come from learning responsibility. Even if it is hard, make him pick up after himself, open and close doors, or work through tasks regardless of their difficulty. Overcoming those issues and caring for himself will set your child up for future success.
Finally, don’t forget about the opposite sex. As your child enters puberty he’ll be dealing with all of the same thoughts, feelings and curiosities as other children. It might be tough to think of your baby having sex, but disabilities do not count people out of having those desires. You might want to avoid the sex talk and just spend more time shopping on 1800wheelchair.com or something more comfortable, but force yourself to do it anyway. Discuss issues of abuse so he is aware of the differences between proper and improper behavior, and answer any of his questions. You might not enjoy those talks, but they are incredibly important for your child’s future.