If you’ve recently been told that your child has a learning disability, or even if you’ve known from birth that your child would need special care, you’re likely feeling scared, sad, angry – any number of emotions. That’s okay. There will come a time, though, when you need to push negative feelings to the background and raise your child. Being the mother of a special needs child myself (he’s now an adult), I have a few tips and recommendations which might make life easier for you and your child.
Tip #1: If your child is severely mentally and/or physically handicapped, there could come a time when you’re faced with the decision of trying to keep the child at home, or placing him in a care facility. Should the latter occur, immediately dispense with any guilt you may feel, since you’re probably doing what’s best for the child. If you simply can’t take care of him, there’s no reason to feel guilty, you just aren’t able – period.
Schedule lots of time for visitation, take the child on outings, and spend quality time with him when you’re able. Don’t beat yourself up over something that’s out of your control. You’ll only make yourself miserable and find it hard to work or lead a normal life. Find the best care facility possible and be there as often as you can.
Tip #2: From birth, let the child know who’s boss. Discipline doesn’t have to be physical threats or mental cruelty. Without strict discipline, though, the child will grow up throwing fits, possibly even hitting others, biting himself or others, throwing objects, and displaying further dangerous behavior. From then on out, you have no control over your child, and life is going to be miserable.
Although it’s more difficult to convey a message to a special needs child, most can and do understand, particularly if they’ve been experiencing things since they were very young. Some parents of special needs children have success with simply removing a misbehaving child from the room, temporarily. They get the message that they won’t be part of the group, or will miss out on the fun, if they don’t behave.
Whatever your form of discipline might be, never, ever, give in to their tantrums. Give in one time and you’ll be at the mercy of the screaming child for the rest of your life. The exception is a child that can’t speak but can make some screaming or screeching noises. This IS his way of communicating. Even still, if you know he’s fed, clean and dry, and his needs are met, ignore the screaming.
Tip#3: Don’t fall into a strict routine with the child. If you do, others will have trouble keeping your child for you. It’s okay to have certain routines, for example, going to the movies every Saturday afternoon. But, when the child’s entire life becomes a routine, it’s more difficult for him to accept something new. Many special needs children have trouble changing routines so keeping things new and exciting makes for a well-rounded person.
Tip #4: Use rewards rather than discipline when possible. Rewards should rarely be in the form of food or candy, though. Try rewards like taking the child to a dollar theme store, helping him make a craft, letting him do something he’s never allowed to do – like staying up an hour later than his normal bedtime, or letting him call a family member like Grandma or Grandpa. Rewards work well with special needs children who are capable of understanding them. Some more severely handicapped children may not get the idea behind the reward system, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something special for him when he’s extra well behaved.
Tip #5: Keep your child well groomed. Special needs children have a hard enough life, without people staring at them, whispering behind their backs, or turning away when seeing them. You don’t have to have a huge clothing budget – just keep the child clean and well dressed. If his clothes, hair, skin and fingernails are clean he’ll present his best appearance to the world. Should your child be one that has trouble with drooling, keep clean bibs with you all the time. Change the bibs when needed – particularly after every meal.
Tip #6: It’s difficult not to try and do most things for your child, to make things easier on him and yourself, but don’t. Encourage your child to do as many things as he can by himself. You won’t always be there to do everything for him, and in other settings, he may be expected to do certain things himself. Let your child choose his clothing even if it means giving him only two choices. Let him choose what side dish you’ll have for supper, which movie you rent – things like that. This gives the child confidence and makes him feel as though he is important.
Tip #7: Teach your child manners. Encourage him to say “please” and “thank you”, if he’s able to talk. Don’t allow him to run through stores or restaurants, don’t permit grabbing – like when food shopping – and don’t let him get away with things like snatching toys from playmates. It’s better to remove him from the play area, or from a dining area, than to allow him to bully others or embarrass you or himself by throwing tantrums or running amok.
Tip #8: Take advantage of babysitters or respite care givers. A special needs child can be equal to taking care of two or three children, and it can be quite exhausting. Most larger towns have respite care centers, or workers, that can help you take some time off. Some care givers will come to your home to babysit, whereas centers require that the child be dropped off and picked up from the establishment. In most states, the cost for respite is absorbed by the state. Check with your centers to see how long you can leave your child – usually a few days to a couple of months. This allows you some time for vacation, rest at home, or just having some “me” time. Trust me, you’ll need this! Keep a journal that logs the child’s likes and dislikes, food allergies, things that upset him, things that calm him, and other personal notations. This will be a big help for the care giver.
Sure, it’s challenging to raise a special needs child – whether they’re slightly learning disabled or severely handicapped. But, the love you receive from one of the children is a love that you’ll never experience anywhere else. They love and give unconditionally and that makes it all worthwhile.