Childhood disabilities are increasingly common in the United States — over 35% of children aged 3-17 are diagnosed with some kind of physical disability, while around one in seven have a developmental disability (cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, and spina bifida being some of the most common). Although raising a child with a disability can be challenging for parents, it’s also highly rewarding. By working to provide your child with the best support possible, you can help them thrive at every stage of their development.
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Research the condition
Having your child diagnosed with a disability can be overwhelming for any parent. However, you can be ready to provide your child with the best support possible by taking the time to research all you can about their disability. Armed with the right knowledge, you’ll have a firmer understanding of your child’s condition, be aware of the symptoms and behaviors to look out for, and be ready to spot any potential medical complications as they first appear. For example, children with autism may experience lesser known symptoms like seizures, digestive problems, and sleeplessness. In fact, it’s common for disabilities of all kinds to result in physical health symptoms. It’s therefore important to schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor to discuss your child’s symptoms and possible treatments (such as therapy, surgery, or medication). And, by being informed and educated about your child’s disability, you can better advocate for your child in medical, educational, and social settings.
Embrace your child’s unique development
Children’s growth has been mapped and studied for years and organized into a number of milestones that indicate the average timeline of childhood development. Children with disabilities, however, typically reach various milestones (whether physical, social, or cognitive) at different times than other children in their age group. As such, it can sometimes be natural for parents to notice their child developing differently or not as quickly as their peers — in some cases, this can be symptoms of an undiagnosed disability. In this case, a developmental milestones quiz can be used to compare your child’s growth to typical developmental milestones and help determine whether your child has a disability such as cerebral palsy — the most common motor disability in childhood.
If you’re concerned about your quiz results and/or your child’s development, book a meeting with a certified doctor to determine your next steps — whether it’s talk therapy, speech therapy, or physical therapy. As a parent of a child with a disability, you’ll soon learn the importance of encouraging and supporting them on their own unique path. You’ll look forward to your child reaching milestones many parents may take for granted (such as first steps or first words, for example). Children are all unique and should be encouraged to progress and grow in their own time.
Set them on the path to independence
Many children with disabilities — especially mild disabilities — are able to live independent lives as adults. Even those with more severe disabilities successfully live alone and have a career, marriage, and family (however, this may also require government financial support, support from family and/or friends, and personal assistants). Your child’s early years can play a key role in determining the type of life they’ll lead as an adult. Focus on fostering independence and confidence and giving your child control over their own choices and life path. For instance, assign them age and ability-appropriate chores around the home, like watering plants, making the bed, and taking out the trash. You can also take your child with you when you’re running errands to get them used to be out in public. Giving your child the opportunities to have these responsibilities and experiences when they’re young will help set them on the path to living an independent adult life.
Take advantage of play therapy
All children love to play, and the importance of play therapy for children with disabilities shouldn’t be understated — as much as 71% of children who participate in play therapy experience positive results. During a play therapy session, your child will play while monitored by a therapist. If your child encounters a problem or frustration, their therapist will intervene to help them work through their emotions and solve the problem. Play therapy is an effective way to help children learn how to explore, process, and verbalize their emotions, adopt healthy coping mechanisms, and stop engaging in unhealthy behaviors in favor of positive ones. These skills also prove beneficial in all areas of life. In turn, you’ll find your family bonds strengthened, and your child will become more confident, less anxious, and more sociable.
Parenting a child with a disability is a challenging yet beautiful journey. By researching your child’s disability, embracing their unique development, fostering independence, and considering play therapy, you can provide your child with the support they need to thrive throughout life.