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Parenting a Child With Special Needs

Lori Freson

Development & Learning

Let’s face it…parenting is hard work. Is it rewarding? Yes, it can be very rewarding at times. But, really, it’s much harder than anyone really tells you, and that is under the best of circumstances. So, imagine for a moment your worst day with your child, that horrible, awful, push-you-to-the-edge kind of day. For most of us, we get a day like that every now and then, and we survive it because most days are better. But what about when that type of challenging day is a good day? That is what it is like when you are the parent of a child with special needs.

Parenting a child with special needs is demanding. It can be demanding physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. It requires you to put forth 100% all of the time. We all know that parenting is a 24-7 job, but most of us get some down time and settle into a routine. This is not always the case with special needs. The actual needs can be simply overwhelming. Draining. Exhausting. It can take a toll on careers, other children in the family, the marriage, and your own mental and physical health.

If you are the parent of a child with special needs, especially if you are new to this, there are some very important things you need to know about. You need to be equipped in order to meet not only your child’s needs, but those of others who depend on you, and even yourself. Here is a to-do list:

  1. Do your research. Learn as much as you can about whatever you are dealing with, so you know how to talk to doctors, educators, and others about how to best meet the needs of your child. Ask questions, talk to other people, and read reputable online information. Never stop doing this.
  2. Be the strong advocate that your child needs you to be. This is literally the only assurance that your child will get all of his needs met in the best possible way. Fight for what you know and believe you are entitled to and what your child needs and deserves. Whether regarding his education, supportive therapies, medical treatment, emotional well-being, and so on, it is up to you to see that he gets what he needs.
  3. Build a support system. Get the emotional and physical support that you need. Use your family and friends in every way they are available to you. Join a group of other parents dealing with the same or similar issues as you are. Nobody will understand like they do. Do not even think about attempting to do this all on your own with no support. You will be doomed.
  4. Gather up all of your resources. And then use them. Family able to help? Great. Do it. Friends offering assistance, whether it’s getting together or watching your other kids for you? Say yes. Can you afford any outside help, like a housekeeper or a babysitter? If you can, then go for it. Even if it’s just to go to the grocery store or take a shower, muster up as much help as you can.
  5. Take care of yourself. The more people who depend on you, and the more demanding the needs are, it becomes even that much more important for you to take care of yourself, first and foremost. If you don’t take care of yourself, and become unable to care for others, you are actually doing a disservice to everyone. It is NOT selfish to do something for yourself, rather it is necessary. Even if it’s just taking a short walk all alone, or a relaxing bath, make sure to do things that are good for YOU.
  6. Don’t forget about your other children. Often, the other children feel that everything revolves around the child with special needs, and that they’re not as important. While it’s true that the family may need to organize around the needs of the child with special needs, it is untrue that each child is not both important and loved. And it can be challenging to convince them of this. Make sure to tell them often, and make efforts to show them as well. Utilize those resources so that you can do something special and meaningful with each child sometimes. This goes far to showing them your love and dedication.
  7. Do not neglect your marriage. One of two things happens when you’re parenting a child with special needs. One is that the stress becomes too much and the marriage can’t take it and ends. But the other option is that it truly can bring a couple closer together than they ever thought possible. This has to be a conscious decision. Communication, teamwork, and mutual respect must be available in large amounts. Then, and only then, can this work.

While parenting a child with special needs can be the toughest thing you’ll ever do, there can also be so many rewards. Relishing in each achievement, savoring all of the good moments, and raising a happy child despite the challenges are just some of the positive aspects to enjoy. At the end of the day, just remember that you truly are a super hero.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.