It takes courage, insight, patience and a lot of love to parent a child with special needs. And a growing number of parents face that challenge. According to a 2005 US Census study, 54.4 million Americans, or approximately one in every five residents have a disability. Demographically speaking that is the equivalent of the population of Florida and California combined. Further, this trend is increasing. (The inclusive Church, wordpress.com)
For example: “Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of autism diagnoses increased 289.5 percent. And by 2013, 1 in 50 children was identified with an autism spectrum disorder. The incident among boys is actually as high as 1 in 31 (3.23%).” (The Inclusive Church, wordpress.com)
For purposes of this article, the word disability is a broad term that most often describes an impairment be it physical, sensory, cognitive intellectual or mental health. Special Needs are defined as, “the individual requirements (as for education) of a person with a disadvantaged background or a mental, or emotional or physical disability or a high risk of developing one.” (Merriam-Webster.com)
There are those that run away from these situations; they are too burdensome and unbearable to live with; they are not in keeping with social expectations, nor with our idealized perceptions of our future. Parents with Special Needs Children are people who have decided to run the course. Not because they have too, but because they are willing to take on life’s unexpected challenges and turn them into a positive and meaningful experience for all concerned.
Every family that is anticipating the birth of a child begins to develop expectations of what the child is going to be like. Those expectations have been conjured in us by our beliefs or those of our family and society. When the expected norm is not achieved, a sense of lost, failure and grief can ensue debilitating the parent’s and immediate family member’s sense of the expected and their sense of well-being.
After a period of grief and lost, the parents/family begins an adjustment period in order to accommodate the circumstance. This adjustment period can either serve to reconstitute the parents/family in adapting to the new circumstance or cause it to fragment. Blame, guilt, uncertainty, disillusionment, separation, anger and distance can be possible outcomes.
At times the discovery of having a Special Needs Child may not be apparent until the child enters a day care or the school system. In this type of situation, a life adjustment may have to take place when the parent’s established level of expectations regarding the child’s future course of physical and academic development has to be reconsidered.
Parent’s that are able to adapt early on and develop a proactive approach to their circumstance by: seeking counseling, attending support groups and connecting or familiarizing themselves with resources and services available to the specific special needs of their child, are better able to cope with the demands and challenges of the disability, as oppose to those who have not found the means of overcoming feelings of anger, disappointment, avoidance and denial.
Parents must be open and receptive to reaching out and receiving help. In addition, they must be able to see themselves as an integral part of the helping team assisting and trying to meet the needs of their child. Otherwise, they can get stuck in a quagmire of misunderstandings, misconceptions and unrealistic expectations that can impede the child’s progress, professional intervention and utilization of needed resources; this can lead to additional emotional and social problems.
Thus, a parent with a special needs child must come to terms with the child’s value to them, their family and the society at large. It is their feelings of acceptance, resolve, determination and positive thinking that is conveyed and imprinted early on in the child that causes them to see their disability more as an inconvenience than a hindrance in life.
In today’s world, with a higher number of children identified with special needs, there are laws such as: ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and the ‘American Disabilities Act’ to assure that children with special needs have all the opportunities that other children have in this society.
For parents with special needs children, happiness can be found in what may seem to others the darkest of times.
To assist you with further information log on to Anthem EAP web site: www.anthem.com/eap/verizon
Submitted by: Harry Migenes, LCSW