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Find Hope in Raising a Child with Disabilities

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Dr. Tyler Sexton speaks from experience. As a child born with cerebral palsy, he overcame incredible odds to become a medical doctor. Now he treats kids with special needs. Here's his encouragement for parents.

Many parents of kids with special needs will tell you it’s one of the hardest yet most rewarding things they’ve had the privilege to do. 

Perhaps your child has a severe physical disability, or your toddler has been diagnosed with autism. Maybe your pediatrician thinks the angry outbursts from your recently adopted little one are likely due to fetal alcohol syndrome.

There are many types of special needs—physical disabilities, limiting medical conditions, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and behavioral issues stemming from neurological conditions. Each comes with distinct challenges, and no two are exactly the same.

No matter what your situation, there are things you can do to lighten the load. 

Don’t beat yourself up over “negative” emotions.

Even though you love your child, you will have mixed feelings at times. For example, if you’re a dad who dreamed of someday throwing a baseball with your son or coaching his football team, you may feel loss when you realize it won’t happen.

You may be saddened for your child with an intellectual disability, knowing academic achievement may not be part of her future. You might feel anxiety about a child with complex behavioral issues, wondering what will become of him when you can no longer provide care. 

Whatever your child’s situation, it’s okay to feel pain and grief for unrealized hopes.

Know there is hope.

It’s easy to imagine your situation is hopeless. Sometimes a diagnosis seems too devastating. I understand.

Shortly after I was born, my parents learned I had cerebral palsy. They were told I’d never walk or amount to anything. Today, as a pediatrician, my practice focuses on families of children with special needs. They not only know that I care, but that I’ve personally walked their difficult road.

Not every special needs situation will end like mine. Some disabilities are so profound that your child might never go to school, hold a job, or live independently. He or she may spend extended periods of time in the hospital, or need adaptive technologies, special services, or physical therapy.

In the midst of these great difficulties, God has a way of bringing unexpected blessings and raising you out of the deepest valleys. I know parents in heartbreaking situations who find their journey incredibly rewarding. There will be moments you don’t feel it, but don’t lose hold of God’s promise of joy.

Where possible, give your child positive challenges.

The way you approach adversity affects your child’s approach to life. A “poor me” approach transfers to your kids, but if you face difficulties head-on with God’s help, your kids probably will too.

Children with special needs should be prompted to stretch themselves and dream as big as possible. That doesn’t mean unrealistic expectations, but it does mean dropping assumptions that a disability will keep your child from reaching far. Encourage your child to be his best.

Of course your child has limitations, but so do typical children. As you would with any other child, focus on your “atypical” child’s strengths and maximize them. Allow her to explore what brings her joy. It will also bring you joy and contentment. 

Use the resources available to you.

Your doctor can point you to resources available in your community. You can also dial 2-1-1 to connect with local assistance agencies in your area.

Schools are required to provide learning accommodations for certain types of disabilities. An individualized education program (IEP) details how the school will meet your child’s particular educational needs and assess progress. Contact your local school district to inquire.  

Rely on others. 

Surround yourself with a support network. Share with an empathetic friend. Get encouragement and advice by joining a support group for parents of children with special needs.

If you’re married, tend to your relationship with your spouse. Intentionally strengthening your marriage helps you and your mate support each other through the stresses of raising a child with special needs.

Remember the source of your child’s worth.

Your child’s value doesn’t come from what he can or cannot do. His inestimable worth comes from the fact that he bears the image of God, just like every other person.

More from a Christian Perspective on Parenting Kids with Special Needs:

Isaiah’s Story: Accepting a Special Needs Diagnosis 

Missy Robertson: What I’ve Learned Raising a Daughter With Special Medical Needs


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