Raising A Child With Special Needs: 6 Tips From Savvy Parents
When Sarah Singh Jacob's daughter first started showing signs of erratic behaviour, she became more and more concerned. This Canada resident had no idea what to do, whom to seek help from or what kind of life lay ahead for her three-year-old. Her child was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
A lot of knowledge through medical experts, internet searches, feedback from her daughter's teachers, etc helped a lot. Not in "curing" the child but in helping Sarah understand the condition her child was living with, better, thus making life easier for her toddler. Children living with various intellectual and developmental conditions - from autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome, can lead a fulfulling life, provided they have the tools to navigate it.
We caught up with a few parents to understand their experiences...
Sarah says, "These are often overlooked tips which go a long way in helping the families struggling to help a child with mental and emotional issues. But first and foremost, you yourself need to understand the condition your child is living with, better."
Stop labelling your child, stop people from labelling them too.”
1. Find the Right Medical Expert
Melinda Johnson's adolescent child lives with autism. She lives in the interiors of Kerala and has struggled a lot to find the right expert to help her child. She shares, "It is extremely important to find a well qualified mental health professional who has the expertise to distinguish one condition from the other. My child was first told he has Downs Syndrome. Five years later, we got to know he has Autism. That’s the reason you need an expert, always."
She adds, "You will be surprised to know that Bipolar Disorder and ADHD share overlapping symptoms! What if my son was diagnosed not with ADHD or Bipolar Disorder or just depression? You know, an antidepressant without a mood-stabilizing drug can cause havoc in such a case. Hence, go an extra mile to find the right expert for your child."
So, how do you do it? The best is to ask your family physician for a recommendation or visit special schools who have experts on their panel.
2. Find the Right Therapy - For Your Child & Family
We got back to Sarah Singh Jacob for advice here. She asserts, “I have learnt that even toddlers can benefit from the right kind of therapy. And in case of toddlers, play therapy works the best in any and every kind of condition. But before committing to a therapist, you have to be clear about the needs of your child. You also need to come to any therapist with a lot of questions like what kind of progress you must expect in a week/month/year. As well as how will this progress be accomplished and measured.
In short, select a therapy that suits the child only after all your queries for his/her betterment are satisfied."
And therapy is just not restricted to the child. Family therapy for all those catering to the child directly at home, can be very beneficial.
3. Team Up With The Child's Teacher
Mumbai’s Shantanu Saraswat, whose daughter who lives with Down Syndrome and goes to a special school here, engages a lot with parents, regularly.
Shantanu advises, “Your child's teachers are his/her best mates outside home, so open up about your child with the teachers, to help them know the child inside out. They will be better able to cater to his/her needs. Scheduling a weekly/monthly meeting with the teacher is the best way to embrace the issue and resolve it with someone who will always be willing to help.”
4. Know What To Say & How To Say It
Here Sudha Apte Thomson, an NRI in Sri Lanka, comes to our help. She works as a counsellor at a school for children with special needs. Her own child lives with Cerebral Palsy.
Sudha informs, “Never tell your child directly about the condition. Use a fun way: ‘Baby, every brain is like a car engine - so sometimes it is bound to get stuck. No worries, we are fixing it. But don't go too fast honey, you won't be able to focus!'
Resorting to a a little playfulness lightens the frustration of the child. Beyond the child, deciding how to tell and whom to tell is your personal choice.” Sudha adds, “But always remember, empathy trumps sympathy. Only then can you get positive results."
5. Track Your Child's Emotional Well-Being
“Right from moods, to sleep issues, to changes in energy level to any unusual behaviour - I keep a chart of it all when my daughter is at home. I also take feedback from teachers at her school. It helps me recognise potential triggers,” informs Sarah Singh Jacob, whose Bipolar daughter is now 12 years of age. She adds that this helps in getting her the right therapy as well as evaluate the progress of her child.
6. Stay Connected With Other Parents
"Parents of children living with similar conditions can also share learnings and tips, beyond the therapist, when you have queries on alternative therapies, school issues, so on and so forth,” advises Dr Simon C. John, a psychiatrist in Italy, dealing with counselling and therapy of stressed parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Sometimes the going gets tough. But always remember: Rome wasn't built in a day. Thus, this learning curve has to be consistent, so that your child can live a full, fulfilling life.
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