As a parent, you are prepared to do what it takes to keep your children healthy and happy. When one of your children is born with special needs or suffers an injury that causes a disability, though, doing whatever it takes becomes a much more exhaustive list. Parenting a disabled child means you are a lifelong caregiver, which is the case for 16.8 million Americans, according to a 2009 study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Adjusting to a new “normal” after the news that your child is disabled can be difficult. The first step is to maintain an optimistic outlook for your child’s future. Be aware that in some ways your perceptions of their potential will shape that potential. Don’t assume your child will never be independent, and strive for effective interdependence. The key here is to look for tools and resources that can enhance the life of your child and lessen the stress on you.
Tips for adjusting to parenting a disabled child include
- Don’t go it alone. Join support groups, attend educational seminars, or have face-to-face conversations with other parents who have special needs children. Talking to others who are facing similar challenges can be a great way to stay positive and feel less alone. Don’t forget that therapists, doctors, spiritual leaders, family, and friends can be important members of your support team, as well.
- Don’t stop your family traditions just because life has changed. If you always had lunch with Grandma on Sundays, keep going. Plan other family outings, as well. Go to the zoo, or check out a baseball game. Decorate for holidays, and eat dinner regularly as a family. Keeping these traditions in your life may be difficult at first, but they are very important to your family in the long run.
- Take a break. Go for a walk or take up a new hobby. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, a break helps you to maintain balance in your life. Balance is important for remaining healthy, both physically and psychologically. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even a short break can be both refreshing and helpful for caregivers.
Once your child is old enough, you may want to consider getting a medical alert device. Making this choice may be difficult, but the device could give both you and your teen, for example, a much needed confidence boost by building more independence in your child. According to Disabled World, this can be an especially good choice for young people who suffer from epilepsy, neurological disorders, asthma, fainting, memory issues, or blindness.
For example, if your teen is able to be alone in his or her room for short periods, one of these devices might enable them to remain home alone while you go to the grocery store or ran other errands.
When an accident or illness leaves your child disabled, your dreams for your child are often altered drastically. This often leaves grieving parents saddled with the responsibilities of a caregiver. If this has happened to you, it is important to take care of yourself as well as your child. Being willing to accept support where it is necessary is key to balancing your old identity and your new life as the caregiver of a disabled child.