Having a child with a disability or special learning needs can be a real challenge. Understanding your child, negotiating for the support they need, and balancing this with your other responsibilities can be difficult.
Children’s disabilities may vary but parents of children with disabilities have similar concerns. Due to lack of experience most people are unprepared and ill-equipped to raise a youngster with a disability or special learning needs.
Parents worry about their child’s future, feel guilty for not spending sufficient time with siblings and can find their child’s behaviour confusing. The change or interruption to their lifestyle can be severe – with many parents giving up their careers to care for their child. The focus of most parents of children with disabilities is to help them reach their full potential and remain with their family. Lack of personal and community support is an overriding factor for most parents of children with a disability.
Many parents experience guilt if there are other children in the family as they tend to receive less attention. However, generally children learn their place and learn to adapt to the needs of the special situation they are in. These children often become very nurturing, empathetic adults.
Below are some general tips for parenting a child with special learning needs:
- Research and collect information on your child’s disability / learning needs. Learn as much as you can about what works for these children, and the types of supports available. To get you started, we have listed some information on disabilities and learning needs on this website.
- Link up with other parents for information, support and to share experiences and ideas. Schools, pre-schools and maternal and child health centres are sources of information for parents seeking to access support groups and parent organisations. Some support groups are listed on this website.
- Nurture the couple relationship. Often the couple relationship suffers in families where there is a child with a disability, and family counselling may be required. For the well-being of everyone, spend time with each other away from the children. If you are a sole parent you have a greater need to spend time alone so you can recharge your batteries. Use respite care services to give you and your family a break from caring.
- Avoid over-compensating to siblings for having a child with a disability in their family. Sometimes parents can lower their expectations of children to make up for the lack of time they give them or their failure to recognise the effort that they put into helping a brother or sister.
- Allocate time to spend with siblings and show your appreciation for the contribution that they make to the well-being of their family.
- Like you, siblings may need a break or just someone to talk to about their family. Help them to link up with other children in a similar situation through sibling workshops, camps and activities organised by disability groups.