Parenting a Child With Special Needs: Help Raising Children With Disabilities

Dayton Uttinger
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Learning that your child has special needs can be disorienting, to say the least. Maybe you knew from the beginning that something was different with your child, or maybe this revelation has caught you completely by surprise. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it’s important that you take some time to reorient yourself. You are not alone, although it might seem like it now.

Discovering Your Child Has Special Needs or a Disability

Upon discovering that your child has special needs, you might think that life (as you know it) is over. That might be true, depending on the extent of your child’s disability. However, that does not mean that your life will be without joy or rewards. As a special needs parent, you will have to face unique hurdles, but you can overcome them.

The most important first step is that you intervene in your child’s care as soon as possible. The sooner your child can get the help they need, the more hope you’ll have for the future.

What Does “Special Needs” Mean?

Special needs refers to “any [number] of various difficulties (such as a physical, emotional, behavioral, or learning disability or impairment) that causes an individual to require additional or specialized services or accommodations.”

Not all children with special needs will require the same amount of assistance. Some disorders or disabilities can be mild enough that your child can live a relatively unassisted life. Others will require intensive day-to-day care. The professional that diagnosed your child will give you a rough idea of what you can expect.

I Don’t Want My Special Needs Child

Being a parent to a child with special needs can be beyond taxing. Few people realize how close raising a child with special needs can bring you to your limit. No one should judge you for thinking that this isn’t what you signed up for, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child.

If you find yourself no longer able to cope, you are not alone. You should look for some respite care, or temporary care, so that you can take a short break, whether that’s for a weekend or a week.

For some parents, however, a break isn’t enough. Some special needs parents do enroll their children in group homes, or put them up for adoption. As difficult as that decision may be, some children genuinely can’t thrive in a “family home” with other kids, and will benefit from going to a specialized group home.

Don’t feel guilty for questioning what is truly best for your children — both special needs and otherwise. However, before you make any life-changing decisions, consider taking a look at some of the resources below.

Struggles of Being a Special Needs Parent

Every special needs parent will struggle to some degree, but it might be worse depending on what state you live in. Having a child with special needs can be expensive, and you might need to lean on the state to make ends meet.

Certain states have better-funded programs; some might prioritize one disability over another; others have almost non-existent help. Look at what is available in your area— if your child’s disability is severe enough, you might want to consider moving.

Coping With Grief

Many special needs parents go through a type of grief. They mourn the loss of what they expected: a child that would grow into a fully independent adult.

Don’t feel guilty for going through this. Your child might still be alive, but many your reality is different than you anticipated. Depending on your child’s disability or special needs, you might not see them graduate high school, move out on their own, or start a family of their own. These are milestones that many special needs parents will never experience, so there is no shame in grieving for those moments.

Coping with Depression

Special needs parents have a more difficult time meeting their own mental needs than other parents. Many struggle with depression. Caring for a child with special needs can consume your whole life.

This is a hole that you can climb out of, though. Consider taking advantage of the following resources:

  • Mom2Mom– a hotline and community centered on helping mothers of children with special needs.
  • National Parent Helpline– a service that can connect you with legal, financial, and emotional assistance.
  • Meetup– a website used to facilitate meeting up based on common interests; many special needs parents use it to connect with each other

Additionally, there are likely disability- or disorder-specific groups that you can join online (or on social media sites like Facebook) or maybe even in your community.

Raising a child with special needs will require a high degree of mental fortitude. It is a struggle. But it doesn’t have to mean that your life is over. You still have a family, can still be happy, and still feel love. You’ll just need some support to get there.

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