How to parent children with special abilities
Every parent will agree that parenting is the most challenging but also the most fulfilling experience one can ever have. It goes beyond just a biological relationship. It involves building an emotional connection with your children and ensuring they develop physically and intellectually with your active involvement, support and care. While there is no secret method to successful parenting, it is universally accepted that being a good parent involves:
- Focusing on being physically and emotionally present for your children and communicating effectively
- Boosting their self-esteem and being consistent
- Striking the right balance between setting expectations and encouragement to teach discipline
- Teaching children the consequences of their actions over punishing them for it
Teaching these values and skills while providing for the overall growth of the child is a long-term commitment, which is even more demanding if you have children with special abilities. Every aspect of parenting is amplified and needs to be paid extra attention.
Given how inaccessible society can be for such children, it is up to the parents to ensure they have all the care and support they need. This means that a huge amount of energy and time is spent worrying about and planning for your children.
A couple of challenges that parents with special children will face are:
- Battling uncertainty, anxiety and doubt:
All parents generally experience anxiety about raising children and worry about the decisions that they will have to take at each stage of their development. This is on a higher level if you have children with special abilities, as you need to constantly battle thoughts of uncertainty. You may not be aware of all the favourable options that exist and it may be difficult for you to decide what is best for your child. You might harbour doubts about whether you are doing all you can for your children and whether that is making an impact at all. Consulting a therapist, exploring your options while making decisions for your child, taking time to mindfully decide can all be helpful to cope with this anxiety.
- Worries and frustration about accessibility:
As parents, you need to be mindful of your child’s special needs. You need to consider what your child is comfortable and capable of doing when deciding between multiple options, especially in the case of schooling and other public spaces. To encourage the growth of your children, you will have to take measures to make spaces more accessible for them. You can do this by installing ramps or handlebars for movement in and around the house, finding comfortable clothing and disability aids or by removing undesirable elements and stimuli (like bright lights and loud noise) from their environment. Many parents need to also worry about the expenses of raising children with special needs considering how treatment, therapy or aid is unfairly expensive. It is natural to worry about these issues.
Besides these, you may constantly have to navigate through feelings of hopelessness, resentment towards daily challenges, a lack of empathy and understanding by others, frustration and irritation because of not knowing what is to be done, and sadness and guilt for feeling these emotions.
Here’s what you can do if these experiences resonate with you:
- Be patient with your child
It is not their fault and it certainly isn’t yours. Coping with special abilities can be exhausting for them too and they would not know how to deal with it effectively. Practise patience and empathy with your child and move ahead with them at their pace.
- Set realistic expectations and celebrate small victories
Understand that you cannot do everything always and that is okay. Setting practical goals, for yourself and your child, can help you prepare better. It also ensures that you do not set yourself up for disappointment if things don’t go your way. At the same time, celebrate the little wins each day, be it a routine they followed or something they managed to do on their own. Keep a log of it somewhere to track their progress and celebrate it.
- Find and build a support network
There will be a sense of “nobody will understand what my family and I are going through” but that shouldn’t hinder you from finding families with similar experiences. Finding other parents with similar struggles helps you build a reliable network to share tips, advice, coping strategies and resources. You can also rely on your friends and family to form a support system for you, even if they do not relate to your experiences.
- Make a list of needs
Make a list of what you need to do for yourself and your child(ren) to keep track of your responsibilities. This also helps if you cannot do something because you’re caught up with work and need someone else to fill in.
- Don’t hesitate to reach out for help
If there is something your friends or family members can do, let them know. It helps greatly to divide tasks among people who are willing to help, so reach out to your networks when you need them to pitch in. Some websites can connect you to caregivers, so do your research to find such people. Talk to your therapist, counsellor, your child’s doctors and teachers for help.
- Ensure to take time off
Take care of yourself in the process of caring for your child. You can only work efficiently if you allow yourself to rest and recharge. Take a break of at least 5-10 minutes every day and do something that you enjoy.
- Communicate with your partner and work on your relationship
Take time to be together, to communicate and be compassionate of each other’s struggles. You can seek external help for this if you feel like it.
Parenting special needs children requires skills that become better over time; nobody walks in fully equipped to deal with the various experiences that occur during the process. This is why it is important to keep in mind that this is a learning experience for most, if not all, parents, and there is no “perfect” way to raise your child.