Keeping You Cool through the Chaos: 5 Tips on Parenting a Child with Special Needs

Parents and kids having fun in living room

Being a parent in today’s world is stressful, but being a parent of a child with special needs adds additional pressures that can ruffle the feathers of even the most calm, collected and caring parent.

Managing behaviors, academic issues, emotional battles, and social isolation are constant concerns for parents of special needs children. We are all juggling a multitude of responsibilities, and when things get tough (this is daily) I remind myself to stay focused, using these 5 strategies:

#1 – Keep a Sense of Perspective. It is true that we all struggle with different challenges and to varying degrees. Yes, it is easy to say, “why me” and feel like everyone else has it “easier.” The fact is our child needs us. We must take a deep breath and press on. Our children don’t wish to be difficult. They are struggling and need our strength and guidance. We must remind ourselves to be patient and listen. While we may not have the solutions or even the words to assist them, offering consistent love and support is paramount.

#2 – Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. No one expects you to be the one with all the answers. It is crucial we look to others for assistance when needed. It takes a village to raise any child, but raising a child with special needs often requires a bigger and even more complex one. Teachers, doctors, therapists, advocates, babysitters, family and friends should all be resources when confronted with a challenge that just seems too great.

#3 – Don’t Forget Adult Time. I’ll never forget hearing this wisdom once at a parenting lecture and it is of the utmost importance. Take the time to do things for you! Whether it’s pursuing a passion or taking time out for friends and loved ones… making time for yourself is a must. If we never step out of our role as a parent to a child with special needs, we cannot possibly function at our highest self. We have a greater appreciation for the beauty of our children and our own self-worth when we take time out for ourselves.

#4 – Spend Time with Siblings. Siblings of special needs children are often a daily witness to the struggles parents contend with and are expected to take a back seat. While they may not directly ask for it, it is mutually beneficially to spend quality time with them outside of the presence of their special needs sibling. It is important they feel equally loved and valued. Make the effort to do something special together when you can. They will appreciate it and be more understanding and eager to help when it’s needed.

#5 – Stick to a Routine.For many children with special needs, the consistency of routine is so important. On the weekends, I have my son who is on the autism spectrum enrolled in a myriad of activities. These programs are designed specifically for children with special needs in our community. It is easier than ever before to find such activities and often times they are free.

Ultimately, I am so grateful to be a mom. Being a special needs parent is exhausting and emotional, but also humbling and gratifying. My special needs child has blessed me with so much love and taught me life lessons that only he could. But times get tough, and when they do, it is important that we lean on our community of support.

– Jocelyn Wasserman is mother, author, a certified teacher and a trusted authority on parenting children with special needs. She provides parents with the tools and resources to navigate family life while welcoming a special needs child into the world.