When a child is diagnosed with a disability, life changes not just for that child but for the rest of the family as well. When a child receives a diagnosis such as autism, Down syndrome, or any severe developmental disorder, it’s normal to feel robbed. You may have expected your child to grow up, go to school, leave the house, and thrive like most other children. The realization that your child might not experience all of that can hurt. But that doesn’t mean the world has ended for your child. Although your child’s path may be different, you and your child still have lots of goals to achieve. Here are some tips to help you and your family thrive with special needs children.
1. Take Time to Grieve
This may not have been what you expected when you decided to raise a child. You have lost the future you had planned. It’s okay to grieve that loss. Take time to process your new future. Bottling up grief and frustration will just make things more challenging, as you deal with both your child and your own emotions. Giving yourself time to clear your mind will leave you better prepared to tackle your child’s future.
2. Educate Yourself
No two children with special needs are the same. What may be helpful to one family may be detrimental to another. Make sure you understand your child’s needs, and how to meet those needs. Read up on your child’s diagnosis. Talk to medically trained professionals and form a game plan. Knowing what your child’s needs are the first stepping to getting them what they need.
3. Build a Support Network
Not everyone in your life may be equipped to handle a child with special needs. Some people mean well but lack the understanding needed to help your family. That’s where forming a network comes in. Seek professionals who understand your child’s needs. Find other special needs families or support groups to vent or talk. Make sure your child has access to therapists or specialists. Your child will have both victories and setbacks. And knowing where to turn to cope with setbacks is essential. Don’t expect to take on all of your child’s issues alone. Get support for both your child and yourself.
Play therapy is a specialized technique used by child psychologists to communicate with children who need counseling. It is especially valuable in treating children who don’t have the verbal skills to express their thoughts and feelings. As the name implies, the strategy uses games, toys, and storytelling so that the psychologist can gain insight into the child’s inner world.
The goal of play therapy is to help children develop socially and emotionally. The technique can diagnose and treat disturbed behavior, anxiety, and trauma. Play therapy is an effective method for children lacking verbal skills because it uses their natural means of expression-play.
In play therapy, toys are the “tools of the trade.” Therapists use dolls and puppets to engage the child in roleplaying. A sandbox with action figures may also be used. Crayons, paint, easels, and other art media allow children to communicate through drawing and is especially appealing to children. These tools make children more comfortable with therapy and give them a way to express thoughts, feelings, and desires.
The Non-Directive Model
A child therapist uses either one or both of two different models of play therapy, non-directive and directive. In the non-directive model, the child is given more control with the therapist giving only a little structure and direction. The therapist becomes more of a spectator, observing and taking notes as the child plays with selected toys, dolls, or puppets. They look for any recurring themes of anxiety or trauma that the child expresses through interacting with the toys. The idea is for the child to become completely comfortable and free to communicate.
The Directive Model
The child psychologist may choose the directive model when they want to address issues more effectively and quickly. During these sessions, play activities are more pre-planned. For example, the therapist may choose to use half the session for roleplay with dolls, and the other half to play with action figures in the sandbox. The therapist may detect issues that help them to become involved in the play session. Choices are determined by factors including the child’s maturity, individual therapy goals, and preference.
Play therapy has become incredibly valuable as a means of communication in child psychology, especially for special needs children who lack verbal skills. It helps them control anger and manage anxiety and depression.
The world is made up of millions of children that each have their own unique needs. Children with special needs- whether it be emotional or physical- are actually a fairly common occurrence. In fact, over 14 percent of children in the United States have special needs, which means many parents may struggle with the challenge of raising them to become kind and productive members of society.
Ways to Cope
Having a special needs child does not mean that parenting will always be difficult. Special needs children bring their own brand of humor and fun to life, just like other children do. However, there are ways to make the day-to-day less stressful, such as:
- Taking some “me” time to focus on one’s own health and well-being. This could mean a day at the spa, exercising a few times weekly, regular date nights with a spouse, or even splurging on a much-needed vacation without the kids.
- Journaling on a regular basis to keep track of day-to-day behaviors which may be beneficial to look back on in the future.
- Seeking therapy to talk about the challenges of parenting a special needs child.
Managing a Child’s Behavior
Whether special needs are brought on by emotional or physical reasons, seeking a professional’s help that specializes in behavioral issues will help make things easier for both the parents and the child. They can help a parent understand why their child is acting the way they are, and how they can settle situations that may arise. Tips they may give include:
- Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
- Making opportunities for frequent socialization with their peers.
- Keeping track of medications and ensuring they are taken on time each day.
- How to keep calm when a child is having a meltdown so as not to escalate the situation further.
- Ways to meet a child’s educational needs despite their behavioral challenges.
- Finding Support
Realizing that childhood behavioral issues are a common occurrence is the first step towards not feeling alone. There are local support groups, online support groups through social media platforms, educators that specialize in working with special needs children, and qualified medical professionals that are there to listen and provide support options.
About Lisa Landman
Lisa Landman earned her doctorate in psychology from Fordham University in 2005. One of the reasons why Lisa pursued psychology is due to her interest in helping others. Throughout her life, Lisa has spent time helping the most vulnerable populations of society which includes animals. She and her husband have rescued six different dogs over the years, and Lisa volunteers with the Special Olympics. Lisa particularly cares about adults with disabilities since they’re a population that tends to face increased vulnerability as they age.
Recently, Lisa Landman worked as a Residential Coordinator at Bishop Grady Villas which describes itself as a “place where adults with disabilities are able to thrive and achieve their dreams” (Bishop Grady Villas Homepage). The best part of working at Bishop Grady was getting to know the residents. Lisa found each resident to be an amazing person with a huge heart, a caring attitude, and a wonderful personality. She particularly admired the residents’ attitudes toward life. Even with their daily struggles, they approached each day with optimism.
The most difficult aspect of working at Bishop Grady Villas was the lack of funding. A large amount of the residents are on the waitlist to receive benefits from the government which Lisa Landman finds unacceptable. If the residents can’t get government assistance, then their families must pay for them to live there. Sadly, there are many adults like the residents of Bishop Grady Villas who don’t have families to help them receive the sort of attention and care they need. This unfortunate reality is one of the reasons why Lisa is motivated to assist adults with disabilities as much as possible.
Lisa Landman served as an assistant basketball coach in early 2017. Helping the Bishop Grady residents during their weekly practices was a lot of fun. Seeing how much fun the residents have during games never failed to make Lisa smile. Lisa plans to assist with more Special Olympics events in the future. Since the Special Olympics is a nationwide organization, anyone can get involved. Helping adults with disabilities is a great way to spend one’s time, and Lisa encourages everyone she knows to get involved in some manner.
Over the years Lisa Landman has worked in a variety of areas such as human resources and teaching. For eleven years she owned a fitness center where she was involved in nearly every aspect of the business. Lisa’s diverse work experience means that she can thrive in nearly any work situation. She looks forward to continuing to pursue entrepreneurial projects while helping others at the same time.