Many parents raising kids with disabilities and 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 looks or feels like, there are things you can do to lighten the load. Trust in the reality that God has a plan for you and your family, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances such as raising a child with special needs.
Tips for Parents Raising a Child with Disabilities
Every situation involving raising a child with disabilities is different. Even though there is no overarching themes or strategies, there are some guiding principles that you and your spouse can employ to approach your unique situation with grace, compassion, and a biblical perspective.
1. 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 or disappointment 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 happen when you can no longer provide care.
Whatever your child’s situation, it’s okay to feel pain and grief for unrealized hopes. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have or the things your child will not get to do, turn your attention to what you do have, which is a child with a uniquely created mind, body, and soul.
2. Know there is hope.
It’s easy to imagine your situation is hopeless. Sometimes a diagnosis seems too devastating. I understand these situations too.
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. You never know where He might lead you and your family.
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3. 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 you create 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.
4. 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. If you elect to homeschool your children with disabilities, you can still reach out to your local school district or homeschool resources to craft an individualized education plan.
5. 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.
Final Thoughts on Raising a Child with Disabilities
When approaching your unique situation, remember to emphasize your child’s worth not only within your perspective, but to your family and most importantly your child with special needs.
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.
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