What You Should Know
Every child is special in his or her own way. Learning that your child has a disability for the first time can be devastating. Taking care of a special needs child is physically and psychologically challenging. Right now, you may be wondering, who should I turn to for support? There are numerous ways in which you can ease the process on an emotional, psychological, and financial basis. In this article, we bring you useful information to help you understand your child better and get through trying times more easily.
A special needs child is a special child requiring special care, necessities, and attention as compared to other children. A child with special needs may have difficulties in different areas such as emotional, behavioral, physical, and intellectual. Unfortunately, this can have a negative impact on the child’s siblings as well. Siblings of special needs children are more at risk of developing psychological problems. They often feel less loved by their parents. Older siblings usually react more maturely by playing an active role in helping their parents take care of their special needs sibling.
There are numerous conditions that require special attention. This article provides a brief description of the different types of conditions that qualify under special needs, namely Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, brain injury and Down Syndrome. Cerebral palsy is a chronic condition affecting the brain, posture, and movement. It is caused by an injury to the developing brain. The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from person to person. Children with Cerebral Palsy are at increased risk of impairments including vision, hearing, speech, and learning. Another neurological condition that qualifies as special needs is Spina Bifida. Spina bifida occurs when the spine and the spinal cord do not form properly. During the development of a baby inside the womb, the fusion of the vertebral arch at the back is what gives rise to the spine. As the vertebral arch fuses, the spinal cord becomes surrounded by this protective arch. However, for some reason, the vertebral arch does not fuse in some children. Hence, the child is born with a part of the spinal cord exposed on the back.
Brain injury is another condition that falls under the category of special needs. A child may be born with brain injury or can acquire an injury during traumatic circumstances. Brain injuries can affect a child’s ability to think, move, and talk depending on which part of the brain is affected. Down Syndrome is a condition during which a child is born with an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are packages of genetic material. Our genetic material is what gives us our characteristics. Normally, a child is born with 46 chromosomes. However, in Down Syndrome, the child is born with 47 chromosomes. This extra chromosome is what gives rise to the features of Down Syndrome. The characteristics of Down Syndrome include: small ears, small mouth, flattened nose, upward slanting eyes, single crease in the palms, thin upper lip, protruding tongue, and decreased muscle tone at birth.
Fortunately, parents don’t have to go through these trying times alone. There are multiple services available to help support parents of special needs children. Psychological support consists of well-defined psychological therapy techniques that aim at helping a child develop adequate coping skills, healthy thinking patterns, and healthy behaviors. Common psychological therapy techniques used include behavior therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and psychodynamic play therapy. All behaviors are learned. We can unlearn unhealthy behaviors. Behavioral therapy uses this concept to eliminate negative behaviors and reinforce positive, desired ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying automatic negative behaviors and changing them by changing the cognitive thinking process behind these particular behaviors. Psychodynamic play therapy is a therapy technique during which the child expresses his emotions through play sessions set up by a therapist. During the session, the therapist observes the emotions brought by certain situations. Play therapy encourages children suffering from stress, anxiety, and low mood to achieve emotional freedom.
Additionally, the emotional aspect of a special needs child can also be affected. Children with special needs may suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, sadness, low mood, or irritability. Some children may express their emotions through crying or even acting out. Acting out is a defense mechanism during which a child behaves badly as a means of venting painful emotions. Parents and siblings should provide continuous emotional support to the child by listening attentively to their concerns and guiding them towards the right emotions. While guardians are usually there for the child at home, during school hours it may be difficult for the child. Often, the academic environment triggers negative emotions such as critics from friends and negative comments from teachers on performance. Parents can ensure emotional support at school by informing the teacher to be sensitive to the child’s feelings and by finding the right academic environment. Children with special needs often benefit greatly from special tutoring. Specialized schools are equipped with great facilities and well-trained personnel to assist a special child. Some schools also provide an emotional support teacher.
We’ve talked about how to take better care of a special needs child but what about the parents and the impact of these challenges on their own emotions? Very often, parents do not seek support. They fear cultural beliefs and do not want to let others know that their child has a disability. We are all emotional beings and each of us needs support during trying times. Talking about your difficulties with taking care of your special needs child is not wrong. In fact, voicing out and seeking help is what you should do. Voicing out what troubles you is a form of therapy in itself. It helps you, as a carer or a parent to clear your mind and find solutions from ‘’another brain’’ so that your brain can take some rest without guilt. Family therapy is a form of therapy that involves guiding the parents throughout the whole process of raising a special needs child with the aim of increasing resilience and coping skills within the family. The therapist gives advice on how to develop effective parenting strategies, the importance of sharing responsibilities, and how to come up with appropriate family routines. Family therapy draws family members closer.
Overall, a special needs child requires additional care and attention to grow into an emotionally, physically and psychologically healthy adult. While it can be very challenging to take care of a special needs child, there are multiple organizations and advocacy groups offering support. Numerous support groups on social media also help parents share their problems and ask for solutions. Governmental organizations provide financial allowances to offset the extra expenses involved in raising a special needs child. Some parents also worry about what will happen to their child if they suddenly die. In this case, it is recommended that parents prepare a detailed letter of intent or a written care plan. As Stephen Hawking once said, ‘’And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up’’.
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 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Health Care Services; Committee on Improving Health Outcomes for Children with Disabilities; Byers E, Valliere FR, Houtrow AJ, editors. Opportunities for Improving Programs and Services for Children with Disabilities. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 May 11. 5, Social and Human Capital Development: School-Based Programs and Services. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518920/
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 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Supporting the Parents of Young Children; Breiner H, Ford M, Gadsden VL, editors. Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Nov 21. 5, Targeted Interventions Supporting Parents of Children with Special Needs, Parents Facing Special Adversities, and Parents Involved with Child Welfare Services. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK402018/