8 Ways to Create a Fulfilling Life with Your Special Needs Child (Part 1)
Just because your child has received a special needs diagnosis, doesn’t mean you, your child, and your family can’t have a gratifying life. Mighty Mommy has 8 ways to find balance and enjoy your life with your child.
In the first episode of this 5-part series on raising developmentally delayed children, we discussed steps to take if you suspect your child has any type of special needs. The second episode of the series focused on coping with a formal diagnosis. And in the third episode we looked at the process involved for your child to receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) through the school district. In the fourth episode of this series, we will focus on creating a positive, fulfilling life for you and your special needs child.
Now that you’re starting to come to terms with your child’s special needs diagnosis, you are going to experience a myriad of emotions. You’ll likely question yourself and wonder if you have what it takes to be a strong parent for your child. I’m here to tell you from personal experience that not only can you do it, but you might surprise yourself (just as I did) in finding your life as the parent of a special needs child more enjoyable, rewarding, and amazing than you could’ve possibly imagined.
Here are Mighty Mommy’s 8 ways for moving forward and creating a beautiful life for you and your family:
Tip #1: Get Your Family and Friends Onboard
Don’t fear the judgments and reactions of others when you tell them the news of your child's special needs, even when you don’t expect a positive response from your loved ones. But support from a close circle of family and friends is one of the most important resources for parents of children with special needs – and people can't support you if you don't give them a chance.
There may be surprises, as you find friends and relatives you thought you could count on slipping away, while others you never expected stepping up and pitching in. I regret that I did not share our children’s delays with friends and family and instead, chose to carry the burden alone for too long. Once I reached out, however, I was amazed at the folks who stepped forward to help. It was doubly surprising when people I never expected became a tremendous asset to our family when we really needed them.
Tip #2: Build New Routines
Depending on the specific needs of your diagnosed child, your family’s regular schedule and routines could become affected. You will most likely be incorporating more therapy and doctor’s appointments as well as other activities that your child will require. This is a wonderful opportunity to recreate a solid routine for the entire family.
It may be difficult juggling all the new appointments, so be sure and build in “family time” that is strictly for fun like a movie night or going out for ice cream, and don’t forget to schedule time for yourself every week! Get input from the other members of the family who live in the house so that everyone can feel like they are positive contributors in designing a schedule that works for all of you.
Tip #3: Stay Inspired
Raising a special needs or developmentally delayed child can be exhausting and draining—there’s just no way around that sometimes. It’s absolutely normal to feel depleted and down from time to time. So when this happens, give yourself permission to feel that way, but try not to stay there for too long. A wonderful online resource for parents is Support For Families which offers some of the best websites that feature resources for families of children with disabilities and have been created by parents or caregivers. The sites included represent the efforts of families or parent groups or that can connect families with support networks, and you can also sign up for their quarterly newsletter.
In addition, try to keep connected with at least one good friend who you can relax and laugh with, no matter how difficult things can get. I met one of my closest friends through the special education department at our school. We both had kids with similar disabilities so we could relate to the good, the bad and everything in between. She has always been my “go to” gal when I needed my spirits lifted and vice versa.
Tip #4: Keep Stress at Bay
There's pretty much no way for the parent of a child with special needs to avoid stress entirely, but you can manage it instead of letting it manage you. Here are some techniques for taking control:
Keep a journal where you can record all of your feelings, good and bad, whenever you just need to vent.
Schedule regular time outs for yourself. Make a pact with your spouse to give each other an hour or two off during the night or swap a day off during the weekend with a trusted family member. This time out can offer you some much needed respite. Never, ever put yourself last in this respect. If you lose your steam, your child and your family will end up suffering. See also: How Selfish Parenting Can Improve Your Life
Exercise. Whether you like to take walks, go for a run, hit the gym, or even use hand weights in your garage—commit to doing some type of exercise on a regular basis so you can release stress and churn out those good endorphins. When you least likely feel like exercising is when it will benefit you the most! My colleague, the amazing Get-Fit Guy, has tons of tips of quick and easy workouts that don’t require a gym membership. He even has an episode on what to do if you’re too stressed to exercise.
Don’t worry, be happy! Worrying is so easy to do (regardless of whether you have a special needs child or not). It may take a lot of practice, but get into the habit of picking and choosing what you worry about. For example, let go of worries such as “Will my child have a nice teacher?” “Will my child ever fit in?” “Will my child have friends?” “What will people think about us if my child has a meltdown in a public place?” All of these questions are inevitably in the back of your mind. But you don’t have let them creep to the forefront and take over. Try to get yourself into the habit of living in the moment—because that’s all any of us have anyways!
Are you raising a child with special needs? Please share your thoughts in the comment section or post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to check out my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.
Tune in next week for 4 more ways to create a positive and enjoyable life with your special needs child.
Meanwhile, remember, you are your child’s biggest advocate and you’re not alone! Enjoy and love your child for the individual that he or she is—and watch what happens! Until next time…..happy parenting!