Special needs parenting can be very hard. You are often are defined by your child’s ability, behavior, and/or challenges. But despite some difficulties, it can still be very rewarding. Since there is no ‘magic’ book to help you with every challenge that you may face, special needs parents are often loss and question…
“ Where do I begin? “
So whether you are a new or veteran special needs parent, here are 10 practical tips to set you up for success.
Seek intervention early
Getting the proper diagnosis and evaluations are essential for building IEPs, establishing placement, and in the progress that your child will make. You want to start early, as early intervention helps children with delays learn new skills and catch up in their development.
Understand your parental rights
Reading and understanding your state’s Procedural Safeguards (aka your parental rights) should be your number one goal as a parent. Make sure you receive your rights at least once a year at your child’s annual IEP meeting and always check your state’s Department of Education website to see if there are any updates. Since procedural Safeguards can be a little wordy, always ask questions if you do not understand an item. Once you know and understand your rights, the special education process will get easier.
Remember you are your child’s # 1 advocate
No matter what route you take (hiring an advocate or you being your child’s advocate) you are the person that knows your child the best. So, continue to speak up for them and do not focus too much on the “negatives.” There will always be someone telling you what you can and cannot do and what you child can and cannot learn. Ignore the negativity and focus on your child’s growth and what you can do as a parent to make sure they are receiving the services that they need.
Know your child’s diagnosis and IEP
If you do not know where you child is starting, how can you help them meet their goals? To help your child meet their goals, start from the beginning. Know exactly what your child’s diagnosis means and the research behind it. Additionally, understand strategies and tips that you can implement at home. Likewise, know your child’s IEP. You want to know their strengths and weaknesses, what goals and objectives are helping them with their weaknesses and any accommodations and/or modifications that they are receiving. This way, if you are presented with a question about your child and you do not have a copy of their IEP on you, you can still relay the information.
Have your finances in order
You do not want to wait until something bad happens to make sure that your child’s future is prepared. In 5 Tips to Special Needs Financial Planning, it lists the important steps that you need to take to make sure your finances are in order and your child is financially set for the future. It is never too early to begin, so start planning today.
Find a support system
I find this to be one of the most crucial things. Being a special needs parent can be quite isolating. You may think that other parents do not know what you are going through or you may lose friends during this process. Whatever is the case, you need to find a inner circle that you can trust and confide in when you have difficult days or when you just need someone to talk to. There are a number of support groups that you can meet in person or online such as my Facebook group.
Know when to ask for help
I always tell parents, it is okay to let go and not feel that you have to do everything on your own. It is also okay to ask questions and make mistakes because all parents do. Therefore, seek help! Hire an advocate or attorney, or find a support group, organization or foundation. Whatever source you seek out, know that having people in your corner will help you through the challenging times.
Don’t forget about yourself
It can be so easy to lose yourself when you become a mom, but especially when you are parenting a special needs child. From school to therapy appointments to feeding and behavior challenges to IEP meetings to just needing a break to take a shower, it can all be overwhelming. But if you do not take care of yourself, you are doing a disservice to your child. Why? Because your child needs you to be healthy and happy. A healthy and happy parent is very valuable to your family. So take time for yourself, by finding respite care or quiet time to focus on yourself and your hobbies.
Research, research, research
Parents often rely on the school system to give them research and information about their child. But, as a parent, you should be the main researcher. With today’s technology and the internet you can find practically anything you want related to your child’s disability. There are so many resources, strategies, parenting tips, and books that will give you ideas and the information that you need to be a successful special needs parents. So make sure you are not just relying on the school system, but are doing the research for yourself.
If you are going to be a happy and healthy parent of a special needs child, you have to find acceptance. You have to accept your child’s challenges (this does not mean giving up on them or having low expectations) and you have to accept yourself and the difficulties that you may have parenting a child with special needs. This means finding joy in every moment. No matter our difficulties, we have to learn to find joy every day and feel grateful for our lives. When we do this, we change the feelings in our hearts.
What tips would you give a parent of a special needs child?