Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Raising A Special Needs Child"

A special-needs child can be a joy and not a burden if parents are educated about their child's condition. Parenting a special needs child may require more than the average child but it can be done. Information, medical care, support, and love are that is required to create a strong family for a special-needs member.

Special-needs children come in many varieties, and more than ten million children with special needs live in the United States today. These needs range from minor conditions that may improve with therapy and treatment to permanent conditions that will limit the child’s function for life.

Allergies – including those to milk or a particular food or food group – are at the mild end of the special needs scale. Severe mental retardation and life-threatening medical conditions are at the other.

Parents of special needs children must learn that they must not only deal with their child’s individual needs but to make a safe, loving environment for the entire family.

Learning About Special Needs

The first step in raising a child with special needs is to understand the child’s condition. Early diagnosis is vitally important in most congenital diseases and conditions. Knowing the cause for a child’s condition can help parents – especially if the cause is beyond parental control. Understanding that a birth defect or handicap was not the fault of either parent can relieve feelings of guilt.

Once a diagnosis or other determination has been made, parents need to listen and learn. Listen to the medical professionals who confirmed the condition. Ask questions. If questions come after the office visit, don’t be bashful. Call and talk to the doctor to gain the necessary information. Learn what you can about the special needs of your child. Check the Internet for sites that cater to parents of similar children. Opt for sites that end with .org or .gov because these are non-profit or government sites. Look for online support groups or seek out support groups in your community. Read about the disability or disease that affects your child and be informed. Don’t limit your knowledge to books alone. Read medical journals and stay abreast of the latest information, the newest treatments. Know what to expect now and as the years pass. Most physicians will provide a written evaluation or report but if not, ask for one.

Remember that early intervention is vital in gaining the maximum experience for the child. Learning experiences, social skills, and treatments can help. If speech therapy will help your child, enroll them at an early age.

Make sure that communication is open and that you are heard as well. Get questions answered and be adamant that you must have all information about your child’s condition. If the information you seek isn’t forthcoming, find out why and consider a change in medical personnel.

Get the best professionals possible. If a beloved family practitioner isn’t the best individual to deal with language disorders, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hearing impairment or any of the other special needs children may have, find the right doctor. A specialist who treats children with like needs may be a better option. Depending on the child’s needs, a team of professionals may be the ultimate option.

Get tough and be persistent. When seeking information or treatment for a special needs child, don’t stop until you’re satisfied. Make sure you understand everything you are told and when you don’t, insist that the information be made clear. Parents know their children and if a medication doesn’t seem to work, tell someone and make sure they listen. Be a nag – you are your child’s advocate.

Keep records. Maintain a record of all diagnosis, treatment, therapy, tests, appointments, doctors, therapists, facilities, and prescriptions. Record what worked, what didn’t, what was determined and what was not. Maintain a list of emergency numbers and keep them posted by the telephone. Make a list of caregivers that you trust with your child. If the child enters pre-school, school, or a facility, make sure that all care givers have the list of trusted individuals. Also be certain that they have the pertinent information needed to work with your special needs child.

Keep both parents involved. Don’t go it alone – have your spouse as informed and active in the child’s life as you are. Strong parental involvement and support are helpful to children – whether they have a medical condition, a congenital disability, or are completely healthy.

Be realistic. Know your child’s strength and limitations. Don’t force a child beyond his or her ability. When seeking treatment or therapy, understand that many unproven methods exist. Confirm that any medical intervention has a proven track record and that it has the potential to help.

Accept the situation. That doesn’t mean give up on improving or even healing a treatable condition but it does mean accept that your child has special needs, which he or she is not an average child and may never be. Love the child as they are, not as you wish they might become.

Be smart about money. Having a special needs child can incur additional expenses that can be major. Get the facts about costs, about available financial aid from state, local, and government agencies.

Love Your Special Needs Child

Despite special health or development needs, every child should be loved. Give unconditional love to a special needs child and show affection as you would for any child with hugs, kisses, quality time, and conversation. If unable to express love for a special needs child as you do for other children in the family, seek professional help so that you can work through your emotions.

Make life as normal as possible. That may sound like a tall order but it’s not only possible but also necessary. Teach every child to have self-respect and discipline. Some may feel that disciplining a special needs child sounds harsh but it’s vital. Set limits based on the individual child’s level and ability to understand. Respond to common childhood behaviors – tantrums, disobedience, separation anxiety – in the same way that you would with any child. Never overindulgence a special needs child and don’t be overprotective. This is their world and they must learn to live in it with their own disability or need.

Be consistent. Have a routine and stick to it. Have meals at the same time, in the same room. Bedtimes need to be set and kept. Whether your special needs child is a newborn or an older child with a recently diagnosed condition, stay in the community. Don’t move – it won’t solve problems and may hinder adjustment in the child. Have a steadfast band of friends and relatives who are part of the child’s world who will help. It does indeed take a village.

Explain the special needs your child has to siblings, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, relatives, and anyone who will come into contact with the child. Long explanations are not necessary but it helps if people understand a child’s unique needs. Help your child not to feel ashamed and ignore any lingering social stigmas from the past. Celebrate who your child is. Never offer false hope – that a blind child will see, for example – unless the possibility exists through possible treatment.

Never allow any one – adult or child – to make fun of a special needs child. Intervene with a firm, kind hand and explain that your child is special because he or she is not like other children. Be open and honest but stop any ridicule.

Accent the character traits that make your child unique. Compliment good manners, encourage a good sense of humor, help style a little girl’s lovely hair, appreciate a love of animals, and celebrate what makes your child’s personality. And accept your child’s disability or illness as part of who he is.

Find inner strength. Raising a special needs child is far from easy and parents need to find their own core strength to rely upon. Courage in the face of possible medical emergencies is vital. A firm foundation in faith or a strong support group of friends and relatives can also help.

Parents need a break. Being a primary caregiver for a special needs child 24/7 can be daunting and stressful. Take time for an occasional respite. Let a trusted grandparent or sitter be with the child while you go out for a meal, to a spa, or even for a weekend getaway. Even a trip once a week to the library or mall can help parents stay grounded.

Have fun. Involve the family in fun activities as much as your child’s special needs allow. Many amusement parks are more than happy to accommodate special needs children. A visit to the park, a magic show, or other event that the child will enjoy can be an outing for the entire family to share. Laugh together and lighten the load.

Hold onto hope but be realistic. Offer your child encouragement and celebrate the small milestones. If your child doesn’t learn to walk until he is four or five, celebrate the occasion and be glad that he can walk at all.

Be involved as a family in the community, at church, in a playgroup, or in a support group for parents. Be connected to others and allow a special needs child to grow into who he or she may be.

Having a special needs child can change lives forever but it doesn’t have to be considered a disaster. With information, patience, support, and love, parents can help special needs children to excel to the best of their abilities and to be happy, the most important consideration of all.

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