Discovering your child has a disability can be one of the most heartbreaking and terrifying events of a parent’s life. However, children who were once predestined to live in institutions may now live completely independently or with some assistance. Many parents might not know where to begin to prepare their disabled child for a future, but you can follow a few steps to point you in the right direction. Early intervention and providing every opportunity for achieving goals can help your child live a productive and happy life.
Learn everything you can about your child’s disability. Your doctor will be able to recommend some books, such as "When Your Child Has a Disability" by Mark L. Batshaw, M.D., or "A Parent and Teacher's Guide to the Special Needs Child" by Darrell M. Parker, and the Internet has a wealth of information and blogs that can provide tips. While these tools can be helpful, avoid non-reputable sites, and value those sites of national and professional organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Easter Seals and National Institutes of Health.
Set up early intervention services, especially those recommended by your child’s physician, to help teach your child activities of daily living and skills needed for independence. These services might include occupational, speech or physical therapy, depending on your child’s disability. Pay attention during therapy sessions and practice interventions at home.
Join a support group. Many areas have organizations of other parents and professionals who work with a particular disability. It might seem trite to say “you are not alone,” but these organizations can offer tips for care and emotional support for you; it is important for you to stay physically and mentally healthy, so you can raise your child with enthusiasm and hope. You can browse social networking sites or blogs for support groups, or talk to your child's school or local children's hospital. Online support groups can be found on sites like SupportforSpecialNeeds.com.
Learn about special education services. The federal law Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports eligible children with disabilities to receive special care in schools. The treatment team includes parents, teachers, therapists and your child, and together you create an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, which outlines specific goals for your child. Your child must first be evaluated by the school, which will determine if your child has a disability according to IDEA definitions and regulations. Read more about IDEA at the National Center for Learning Disabilities website.
Set up a special needs trust. There might come a time when you are not around to care for your adult child with a disability, or you might want money set aside for care once your child leaves home but requires some additional assistance. You can talk to a lawyer or financial advisor to set up this fund.
Give your child opportunities for doing chores to encourage independence and responsibility. Use goal charts to set expectations and give rewards for completing a goal. If possible, let your child take music lessons or join a sports team. Encourage your child to participate in activities, particularly ones in which he has a special interest. Remember that your child with a disability is still a child; while he might not be able to do tasks by a certain age as typically developing children would, he still needs love, attention and discipline from his parents.
- Remember your child's disability is not a sentence for a miserable life. Some learning disabilities are completely treatable, while other disabilities might be more severe and will require lifelong care. By educating yourself and providing the best possible care for your child, he will become everything he can be.
- Be wary of treatments without a foundation of research or scientific backing; your doctors and therapists will know more about appropriate treatments with a healthy track record.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Families With Special Needs: Caregiving Tips
- Easter Seals: Raising a Child With Special Needs
- National Institutes of Health: Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
- Children's Disabilities Information: Books on Parenting Children With Special Needs or Disabilities
- Support for Special Needs: Groups Directory
- National Center for Learning Disabilities: Parent Guide to IDEA
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images