Common Challenges for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Parenting a child with special needs is challenging on several levels. Special education is filled with technical terms that might initially overwhelm a parent who is new to the field. Parents are also often concerned about their child’s overall development and well-being. Parents may feel misunderstood or isolated because their worries are much different than a parent of a typical child’s. However, you are not alone! The community of parents raising children with disabilities is huge, and it is welcoming and warm. In order to assure parents that they are not alone in this journey, we have outlined some common challenges parents of children with special needs face and some tips on how to overcome them.

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Different Concerns

One of the most common challenges for parents of a child with special needs is that they have concerns that differ greatly from parents of a typical child. Depending upon their child’s needs, parents may have to completely reassess any plans they had for their child’s future, as well as their own. They have to consider things like therapies, medications, and where their child will live once they are out of school. Parents also have to be incredibly patient, understanding, and willing to take things at a slower pace. Children with disabilities typically take a longer time to reach milestones, such as learning to walk, talk, and eat. This goes against the expectations that parents of typical children have, which can be frustrating at first. It’s important to keep in mind that every child is unique and will learn things at their own pace. Joining a parent support group can be comforting, because they are a place for parents to connect and discuss similar experiences.

Worry of Acceptance

Since the majority of people have limited experiences and interactions with children and adults with disabilities, families often worry that their child will not be accepted socially. If a student with special needs has a difficult time communicating with others, they may have a hard time making friends in school. Parents may also be afraid that other children may not understand their child and react negatively towards them. If that is happening, it is important to remember that some people are not educated about what it means to have a disability. If someone says something offensive to you or your child, it’s best to calmly correct them and explain why it is hurtful. Most of the time, they didn’t know and are happy to correct themselves in the future! If you’re worried about your child not making friends, it can be helpful to enroll them in after school activities or a special recreation center to meet other children in the community.

Balancing Time

Raising a child with a disability takes time and patience. It is a huge and lifelong commitment. This may be especially difficult if both parents need to work or if there are other children in the family who do not have disabilities. Parents may often feel like they do not have enough time to spend with friends or other family members, which can be really stressful. If you have other children, it’s important to openly communicate with them, especially if they are younger. It can be difficult for a small child to understand why their mom or dad spends more time with their sibling than them. Making sure that they understand that their sibling requires a bit more attention but that you still love them is essential. Also, be sure to include them in activities and spend time as a whole family when you can. If your friends don’t seem to understand why you can’t spend as much time with them anymore, do your best to explain why and schedule a day to spend time with them. Your true friends will understand and support you!

Feeling Alone

Parents of children with special needs often feel isolated from other parents. Most families do not know or understand the challenges that accompany parenting a child with a disability, and it can be difficult for parents to see other children developing at a faster or healthier rate than their own child. That’s why it’s important to have support in your life, whether that’s your immediate family, circle of friends, or a parent support group. If you aren’t part of a support group, it might be beneficial to join one. Hearing similar stories from other parents and receiving advice on a current issue you’re having can help you feel like you aren’t alone.

Physical Exhaustion and Stress

Parenting in general is a tiring job. However, parenting a child with a disability can be especially tiring, as parents have to do that much more for their child. They may have to help them bathe, eat, and take them to a variety of doctors’ appointments. The physical exhaustion can add to the stress that accompanies parenting and contributes to a parent feeling overwhelmed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be ashamed to ask for help! Taking a day off can be necessary and help you feel recharged. Ask someone you trust to watch your child for a few hours and do whatever you need to do to relax.

Educational Challenges

Navigating the educational journey of a student with special needs is complicated, especially for parents who are just learning about special education. There are additional things parents need to do for their child, like developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and regularly communicating with their child’s teacher. It can also be discouraging if your child is not making the progress you hoped they were. There are setbacks and challenges both parents and their child can face, but knowing that their teacher is doing their best to help is important. Do your best to stay positive, and if something isn’t working, have a conversation with your child’s teacher and develop a new plan that will work better moving forward.

Financial Challenges

One of the more stressful aspects of being a parent of a child with special needs is financial obligation. It can be expensive to raise a child with a disability. Depending on the severity of the disability, a child may need several therapists, medical equipment, medications, private education, respite care, etc. This is often a cause of stress among parents, because a child with a disability may not have the capability to be financially independent. It is important to be on top of your finances, know how to budget properly, and seek help if necessary.