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Psychologists Educate Parents On The Steps To Take Towards Handling Kids With Special Needs In A Better Way

The term special needs can be referred to a vast array of diagnoses and/or disabilities. Children with special needs may have been born with a syndrome, terminal illness, profound cognitive impairment, or serious psychiatric problems.

Other children may have special needs that involve struggling with learning disabilities, food allergies, developmental delays, or panic attacks.

Having a child with special needs comes with some drawbacks for the parents. In most cases, the parents are never prepared for the challenges that are associated with having a child with special needs, and as a result, are not able to cope with the situation.

A psychologist, Professor Toba Elegbeleye, in a chat with PUNCH, noted that special needs are ‘varied and many’, adding that the way parents should deal with the situation depends on the particular need.

There are four major types of special needs children:

  • Physical – muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy, etc.
  • Developmental – down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders, etc.
  • Behavioural/Emotional – Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, bi-polar, oppositional defiance disorder, etc.
  • Sensory Impaired – Visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing, etc.

While it is important for parents – or guardians, relatives, caregivers – to know how best to handle children with special needs, it is also necessary that the parents should understand that having such a child will also have an effect on them. Such effects might be positive, or negative.

Several research works have looked at the effects of having a child with special needs on parents. A study carried out by Johnston and Mash (2005) concluded that the presence of a child with ADHD results in increased problems with family and marital functioning, disrupted parent-child relationships, reduced parenting efficacy, and increased levels of parental stress.

Also, according to the National Mental Health Association and the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health (1993), parents who are caring for children with mental illness find it extremely difficult to get their own mental health needs met while trying to meet the mental health needs of their child.

While it is clear that the additional demands of chronically ill children cause stress that affects the whole family, the presence of a child, or children with special needs, must not necessarily be a negative experience.

SEE ALSO: Super Mom, Oyinkansola Kalejaiye Talks Life As A Parent Of Three Children With Additional Needs

There are steps that parents could take towards handling children with special needs in a better way.

  • Get educated

Elegbeleye stressed that in order to effectively take care of children with special needs, parents need to be educated on what is required to done.

“Parents need to be properly educated on how to take care of such children, especially in cases where the challenge is nerve-wracking. They (parents) need to be advised by experts. Some universities have set up departments on special needs children, such parents can visit such departments to learn more about how to take care of children with special needs,” he said.

Getting educated on the requirements for handling children with special needs would, ultimately, help parents to overcome some of the negatives that come with the situation.

Another psychologist, Seth Meyers, in an article on, drew from his personal experience to highlight some of the negative effects of dealing with children with special needs.

According to Meyers, ‘parents of special needs kids will inevitably resent their child at some point’. He said,

“All parents will have an occasional bad day and question why they had kids in the first place. Yet for the parents of kids with special needs, these parents will have deeper resentment – even if those resenting moments last only 10 or 20 seconds.

I often hear people reciting the (Albert) Einstein quote about the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result), and I believe this definition helps to explain one of the central challenges of having special needs kids.

See, parents’ chief motivation is to teach the growing child how to one day care for themselves on their own. Accordingly, parents invest thousands of hours in teaching children everything from how to hold a pencil correctly to how to think about others’ feelings.

With special needs children, however, they often require that you teach – and reteach and reteach – some of the same lessons until the children learn. What happens when the student doesn’t learn? The parent understandably feels frustrated.

Parents need positive reinforcement to keep moving along, but they don’t get the reinforcement they need if the child doesn’t learn the lessons. In this way, the parent’s experience leads to a sort of crisis of faith: Are my efforts making a difference? If not, where do I go from here?”

SEE ALSO: Nigerian Singer, Jodie Pens Inspirational Notes To Mothers of Special Needs Children

  • Don’t get angry

While the extra attention required in the care of children with special needs might become draining and frustrating for the parents, psychologists advise that anger should not come into play in the situation.

“You can’t be angry with a child that is challenged,” Elegbeleye observed.

Other steps parents should take to ensure adequate and effective care for their kids with special needs include the following:

  • Get support

Join a local or online support group, search for local and national groups that provide services, recreation, and information for families with special needs.

Find out about local, state, federal, or other programmes that may be available.

  • Be an advocate

Ask questions, and know your rights.

Become familiar with relevant legislation that relates to children with special needs, and know how and when to apply them to your situation.

Inform other caregivers of any special conditions or instructions. Always remind dental or medical staff of this information each time you visit.

Document the medical history and care issues of your family member with special needs, and keep this information current.

Make sure your employer understands your circumstances or limitations. Arrange for flexible scheduling when needed.

  • Be empowering

Focus on what you and your family member with special needs can do. Recognise appropriate milestones to celebrate. Look for memorable events and achievements to honour family members with special needs.

  • Written instructions

It will help your child, and those who may need to care for them if they know exactly what has to be done each day. Keep a log of the food and drinks your child likes and dislikes, what time they wake up and go to bed, what time they need their medication and so on. Doing this will make life easier for your child and their carer.

  • Take care of yourself

Stay healthy for yourself and those you care for. Work to maintain your personal interests, hobbies, and friendships. Balance is important.

Set reasonable expectations about caregiving. This may lower stress and make you a more effective caregiver. Take a break. Short or long breaks can be helpful.

  • Plan your child’s future

Don’t forget to always ask yourself this question – “What will happen to my child after I die?”

You may want to plan for your child’s future and make sure things are in place in case they outlive you. If your child has a physical disability, they might need someone to help them with personal care or transportation.

If your child has learning disabilities, they may require specialist provision such as sheltered housing, care homes or specialist nursing care.

  • Make a will

Taking care of the question raised above requires that you leave a will behind. Writing a will can help you address the fears you may have about what will happen to your children when you die. You can write a will through a solicitor, or using a will-writing pack or online will-writing services.

You might have family or friends who could care for your child in an emergency, or who would be willing to look after your son or daughter if you die. If this is the case, you may want to make a will explaining your wishes for your child. It is also a good idea to let social services know in advance and to include them in an emergency care plan. If friends and family can’t help, speak to social services about the best options for your child.

  • Care plans

A care plan is a good way to ensure that your child will be properly looked after if you fall ill and can’t care for them, or if you die. Even if you have made arrangements for emergencies, it is essential to make an emergency care plan for your child, especially if they have complex needs. This should include your child’s details and medical requirements, and the names and numbers of who to contact in case of an emergency.

  • Patience and understanding are important

Taking care of a child with special needs requires a parent to have higher levels of patience and understanding. Because most children with special needs require specialised care, a parent needs to develop specific skills for caring for them.

  • Focus on what the child can do

You should always focus on what the child can do rather than what they cannot. This can help the child feel more normal. Whether it is a physical impairment, an activity or conduct disorder, or a learning disability, there are many services that can help parents in taking care of the child.

  • Maintain hope, resist guilt, fear

It can be very hard for a parent that has a child with a disability. They might feel guilty as though they did something wrong when making the child or feel resentful at how much time and effort caring for the child takes.

A parent has to go through a lot of development themselves when finding out that they have a child with special needs. There are many things a parent can think about when in that situation. It is important to maintain hope even through their fear and negative views.

  • Seek out other parents with special needs children

It can also be good finding other parents with children who have special needs and getting advice from them.

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