3 things you should know from a parent of a child with additional needs

Young boy swing park

It’s safe to say that no parent expects the number of challenges they will come up against when raising a child. A lot of time is spent questioning yourself, second guessing decisions and beating yourself up inside in the ‘simple’ endeavor of attempting to raise a bright, respectful young human.

For parents who have children with additional needs, the challenges extend beyond the norm. In addition to all the standard feelings, many feel judged anytime they leave the house and feel isolated from other parents.

We spoke with one of the parents we support who is raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She had a few helpful words for anyone in the community who may encounter a family who has children with additional needs.

1. Please include us!
As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I often feel isolated and my child feels left out. There are little to no play dates, birthday party invites or Christmas cards.
Please don’t avoid us! It’s hard to find other parents who will accept that my child is different. If I look like I need someone to talk to, I probably do. Say ‘hi’ at school pick up. My child and I would love to be invited for a play date. He has additional needs that mean extra preparation might be needed, but it’s not impossible and it would mean the world to us. Not sure what to do? Just ask me! We can work it out to make it fun for your child and a trigger-free experience for my son.

2. Don’t compare
Many parents find it helpful to compare stories or milestones, but when it comes to a child with additional needs, the response is: don’t. What works for your child – to stop a tantrum, to calm, to discipline or even to get them to eat their veggies – will not work for all children. I’ve heard all of the advice in the world and I’m at a point now where I just want to feel comfortable dealing with each situation doing what I feel is best. For example, some ASD kids need hard pressure if they are having a meltdown and for many mums this means literally laying on top of their child to stop them thrashing and to regain a natural heart rate. For others it may be squashing with a massive bear hug, or rather methodical pats on the back. Even between two kids with special needs the approach can be very different. So please don’t compare.

3. Save your pity
I often hear well-meaning comments at the shops like “I don’t know how you do it” or “you must wish for some time off”. My child is challenging, but he is my world. He isn’t a burden and you assuming he is a problem for me, is not helpful. If you want to say something comforting to me, tell me I’m doing a good job or offer an empathetic smile.

 

We are all navigating the world as best we can. Families with children who have additional needs are no different. All we ask is for you to think: how would I want to be treated if my child was ‘different’? We all want connection, friendships and to feel included.

 


WHAT ARE ADDITIONAL NEEDS?

“Additional needs” is a very broad phrase used to describe conditions or circumstances where a child may require specialised support. The most common would be children who have one or more of the following:

  • Learning or speech delay
  • Physical disability
  • Diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Are living in vulnerable circumstances
  • Speak English as a second language
  • Demonstrate challenging behavior

Some additional needs are ongoing, while others are a part of a child’s particular stage of development.