How to Help a Child With Special Needs
Every child needs love and encouragement, but kids with disabilities need those things even more. Sometimes, their behavior issues can stem from basic needs such as hunger, sleeplessness, or discomfort.
Parents of children with disabilities also have to deal with raised eyebrows and judgmental glances. They need superior communication skills and confidence to advocate for their child.
Know Your Child’s Unique Needs
Children learn at different rates and in a variety of ways. Some children have physical or intellectual disabilities, while others have emotional or behavioral difficulties.
A disability is not always apparent at birth, but it can become clear over time—often when a child is having difficulty meeting developmental milestones or does not make progress in school. Many parents seek a diagnosis through a physician’s exam.
Talk to your child’s teachers and related service providers. Find out if they have observed any issues or problems and how they addressed them. If you have any concerns, request a special education evaluation by the school’s child study team.
If your child is eligible for special education services, the CSE will develop an Individualized Educational Services Plan (IESP). The IEP outlines your child’s needs and educational goals. The IEP will also include the team’s recommendations regarding services that you may need to meet your child’s educational needs. This includes classroom accommodations and support, special classes and activities, specialized transportation, and additional services for students in non-public schools (also known as parentally placed students).1
Identify Your Child’s Learning Style
Having a good understanding of your child’s learning style can help you determine how to best teach them. You’ll be able to better help them excel in their studies and build upon their natural strengths.
Visual/Spatial: This type of learner has a vivid imagination and excellent recollection, excels in art and reading and responds well to written instructions. They also have a strong interest in maps, charts and diagrams.
Verbal/Linguistic: These children are excellent communicators and learn to talk at an early age. They tend to remember verbal instructions, songs and stories, enjoy word games and are often musically talented.
Logical/Analytical: These learners think logically from an early age and excel at strategy-based activities. They’re also adept at mental arithmetic and are good at creating models and drawings.
Kinesthetic/Tactile: These kids love to touch and manipulate things. They excel in sports, hands-on activities and tend to fidget when they have to sit still for long periods of time. They like to use blocks for math manipulatives, create salt-dough maps and construct clay models for studying geography.
Create a Strong Support System
All kids need a network of people they can turn to for support. For children with special needs, this can be even more important.
Parents of children with special needs often face a lot of stress and isolation. They may also have to deal with a great deal of discrimination and bigotry. It is important for families to find ways to break this cycle. One way to do this is by joining a support group for parents of special needs children, either in person or online.
Another way to create a strong support system for your child is by encouraging their interests and helping them to develop those interests. You can do this by signing them up for classes and activities that they enjoy or taking them to events related to their interests. You can also help them to build a support network by teaching them how to ask for help and showing them how others ask for help when needed.
Be Your Child’s Advocate
Being a parent of a special needs child means you’ll have to advocate for them, whether it’s advocating for the right medical care or educational accommodations. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can about your child’s disability, school policies and laws, and other relevant information. Come to meetings prepared, and make requests for evaluations or services in writing when possible.
Also be sure your child’s basic needs are met. Many times problem behaviors are a result of hunger, thirst or fatigue. Addressing these issues will help your child be more stable and may prevent negative behavior.
As your child grows, it’s important to teach them how to advocate for themselves. This will help them become more independent and feel confident as they navigate life with a disability. They should know how to ask for help and use words to express their feelings, as well as how to navigate social situations and crowded spaces.