Parenting a Child With Special Needs

By Heather Miller, Courier & Press, February 24, 2015 –

“None of us are born knowing how to be a special needs mom. I’m still trying to figure it out and am just stumbling along.” These words were written by a mother of a child with spina bifida in response to my email asking for advice about how to navigate the world of individualized education programs (IEPs), needed therapies and a host of other things related to parenting a child with special needs.

Although I had experience working with children with special needs, I realized being the parent of a child with special needs was an altogether different experience. My youngest son was noted to have developmental delays at age1.

I remember feeling lost at first. How would my son be successful in school? I am happy to say he is excelling, although at age 6 he continues to struggle with fine motor skills and communicating clearly. He is enrolled in a regular kindergarten room but is pulled out for services.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6.4 million children ages 3-21 were served in United States schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2010-2011. While this represents nearly 10 percent of children enrolled in public and private schools, parents of children with special needs often feel overwhelmed and alone.

I have found the following five tips useful when helping my child with special needs:

1. Communicate. View your child, yourself, teachers, and service providers as a team working toward the common goal of your child’s success. Ask for progress updates and ideas to help your child meet goals at home. Be mindful of the fact that teachers and service providers receive numerous emails and phone calls daily. Allow a reasonable amount of time for a response to be received.

2. Listen. Teachers, psychologists, and service providers have experience educating and helping children with special needs. I often was initially uncomfortable with a suggestion such as allowing my son to ride a bus to pre-K. I learned that stepping outside of my comfort zone and listening to ideas presented by those working with my son allowed him to grow in ways that I would have never imagined.

3. Prepare. There will be times when you disagree with your child’s teacher or service provider. Creating a plan for dealing with disagreements ahead of time will better allow you to remain calm and maintain the team relationship necessary for your child when the time comes.

4. Advocate. Parents know their children best. If you feel a need is going unmet, discuss the situation with the teacher, administration or service provider. Ask questions about items you do not understand. I found the use of acronyms confusing. Asking what something means is important to meeting the needs of your child.

5. Acknowledge. Acknowledge the fact that educating yourself and advocating for your child with special needs can be challenging. Be attentive to yourself and practice self-care. Additionally, acknowledge providers that often go the extra mile to help your child.

Youth First, Inc. can provide parents with information about Youth First programs and community support groups for parents of children with special needs. Please contact your school’s Youth First social worker or visit our website for more information.