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3 Special Tips For Parenting A Special Needs Child

Parenting alone can come with its own special and unique challenges factor in parenting a special needs child and you add a tremendous amount of stressors on an already difficult role.

According to Special Needs Planning ( here are some sobering statistics about families with Special needs:

  • More than 41 million Americans, or almost 15% of the population age 5 and older, have some type of disability; according to 2007 Census survey data. Some 6.2% of children ages 5 to 15, or 2.8 million kids, have disabilities, the Census Bureau found.

  • One out of 9 children under the age of 18 in the US today receive special education services

  • Out of 72.3 million families included in the US Census Bureau Report, about 2 in every 7 reported having at least one member with a disability

  • 20.9 million families have members with a disability

  • Of the 20.9 million families reporting at least one member with a disability, 5.5 percent have both adults and children with a disability

  • One in every 26 American families reported raising children with a disability

  • An estimated 2.8 million families, 1.3 percent, reported raising two or more children with a disability

  • Along with added stress on the family unit there is an increase in divorce and the risk of parental substance abuse in families where there is a special needs child. It is important to know that while parenting a child with special needs a semblance of a ‘normal’ life is possible.


In the advent of technology and being able to search for any list of physical, emotional and cognitive symptom on the internet and have a ‘magical’ diagnosis pop up it’s important to realize that mental illness or learning disorders are not as cut and dry as the internet may make it appear. One cannot enter a list of symptoms and arrive at an answer. A thorough assessment that may include family history, questionnaires for both parents and teachers, testing for the child involved over the course of a few session is the only way to derive at a solid diagnosis. I have heard from many parents that although getting a diagnosis for their child can be nerve racking having an actual diagnosis can be freeing and liberating. Having a solid diagnosis then means that you can meet with the child’s provider (Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, APRN, etc.) to discuss an effective treatment modality and intervention along with solid treatment goals. In therapy with special needs I recognize that the family needs as much information as the child does in order to parent in a more adaptive way and communicate in a way that’s conducive to the child’s style, temperament and special needs. It is essential to have well informed conversations with your child’s treatment professional in order to learn more about the child’s unique challenges and strengths.


In the midst of the whirlwind it is often times easy to forget about yourself as a parent. It is important to process the idea that taking care of self is indirectly taking care of your child. Often times parents feel selfish for taking some time to de-compress, unplug and relax away from their child. In all my conversations with parents I discuss self-care rituals because I have seen firsthand the difference between a child with disconnected, stressed and overwhelmed parents vs. happy, connected and relaxed parents. I often see increase behavioral outburst, children who have a difficult time regulating their own emotions and chronic anger management issues among children with disconnected and chronically stressed parents. It is important to develop one or two activity at minimum per week to be able to process, introspect, unwind and relax. I suggest parents start with activities such as:

  • Taking a bubble bath after the kids have gone to bed or before they awake in the morning.

  • Taking your lunch time or break from work to go walk in nature

  • Calling a friend and going out for a meal in which the focus of the conversation is not based in parenting issues but fun, easy and light conversations.

  • Listening to your favorite music

  • Using your commute to work as ‘me’ time, by listening to your favorite music, radio station, books on cd, mindfulness thought, etc.

  • Have a day at a local spa complete with a manicure, pedicure, and massage or facial.

  • If you are co-parenting with a significant other find time for a date night in which the conversation is about you as a couple vs. parenting obligations, schedules and upcoming plans for the child.

  • Creating a wish-list on your favorite website and buying an item just for yourself and enjoyment at least once per month.

  • Attending a group fitness class at a local health center (Yoga is an amazing activity for stress relief)

  • Attending a guided meditation group

  • Begin a hobby (jewelry making, scrap-booking, knitting, etc.)

  • Go dancing with a friend or your significant other

  • Try an extreme adventure


If an estimated 2.8 million families have reported raising two or more children with a disability then certainly you are not alone in parenting a special needs child. The shame and lack of information for parenting a special needs child can be overwhelming and force parents to isolate and live in quiet frustration and stress. Finding support groups in order to gain pointers on how parents may have dealt with their special needs child, normalize your own experience and offer positivity around a subject that parents of non-special needs may shy away from. You can often find support groups specific to your child’s disorder (Cerebral Palsy, ADD/ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Down syndrome, Autism, etc.) by searching the web or discussing the need for this parental support group with your child school’s Parent Coordinator, Parent Advocate, Guidance Counselor or Social Worker. Parents who join a support group find that they can manage better, have less anxiety and have more of a sense of connectedness and community. You can also search:

Center for Parent Information and Resource where you will find information on but not limited to:

  • Your Child’s Evaluation

  • Parent to Parent Support Groups

  • Questions often asked by parents about special education

  • Information about rights guaranteed as a parent under Individual With Disability Education Act (IDEA)

  • Talking to the school about developing an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P) in order to have needed resources in place to help your child thrive in an academic environment.

Check out the Center for Parent Information and Resource links:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Please visit NAMI website to learn more

NAMI has also been a tremendous resource for the families I see in therapy who is parenting a child with a mental illness NAMI offers Family Support Groups, Classes and workshops to help parents not only learn about their child’s disorder but allow them a safe place to process their feelings and gain support. NAMI is a national organization and offers support groups throughout the country and in most counties, cities and towns.

Parenting has its ups and downs; parenting a special needs child offers great learning opportunity and is a process! Relax, Breathe and enjoy the lessons as they come!

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