A special parent is a parent of a child with special needs. The child may have certain delays in terms of speech, mobility, socialisation or academics. The life of a special parent may often be tedious and full of anxiety. Certain children require extra support in terms of additional classes or therapy sessions. Managing different types of therapies such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, special education, physiotherapy or visual therapy, is an integral part of the lives of many parents. Along with the physical tiredness, there is also a lot of added financial pressure, too. Most parents of children with special needs suffer from high levels of stress, anxiety and burnout. Many individuals may not be aware of it, which makes the need to speak about it even greater.
Every child is unique and special in their own way. However, certain children may take more time than the others. Special parents often have a tough time taking their child out to public places such as malls or the theatre. This stems from the fact that the child may not always be socially comfortable — some children may have certain repetitive behaviours and some may not have an adequate sitting tolerance.
You may often come across a child/adult with special needs, moving around a restaurant or walking in a park. The least you can do is not stare at them. They may be different but unique in their own way. Staring at them is hurtful and disrespectful for them and their family members.
It costs nothing to smile, a smile can brighten up any one’s day. If you see a child/adult or a special parent, a simple smile or nod in a positive way will definitely make them feel a lot better.
Support their effort
We often praise parents of children who score well at school. What about special parents? How many of us have ever stopped by to tell them what a wonderful job they are doing? Complimenting them will make them feel worthy, and that is a feeling everyone would love to have.
I accept that it takes superhero powers to take care of a special child. However, most parents prefer to be addressed like any normal parent. Every child has feelings, needs and desires. The same goes with a special child.
School and standard
Not all children with special needs go to school. Repeatedly asking the parents about the school and which standard the child goes to should not be an integral part of any conversation. Make sure you have conversations to only cheer up someone.
No special parent has ever asked for sympathy, neither do they like being addressed as a troubled parent. Providing sympathy or feeling sorry for them is not what they have ever asked for. Unnecessary sympathy may actually hurt someone, without you even knowing.
Every parent wants the best for their child. Telling them what to do, what not to, what to avoid and what new to try, may not always be the best thing to do. Unless they are asking you for suggestions or advice, it’s best to keep our opinions to ourselves.
Set an example of inclusion
Find ways to include your friend’s special-needs child in activities and accommodate challenges. For example, if a child with special needs has difficulty climbing to the top of a slide, give them a hand. If they are having a difficulty in understanding a game, simplify the rules so that everyone can follow the same. Inclusion involves allowing all children to play together irrespective of their differences.
A sibling of a special-need child often matures very fast as he/she assists the parent in the management, or self-care of her brother or sister. It is important to appreciate these efforts and reward the sibling for the same.
Spend quality time
If you have a friend, relative or neighbour who has a special child, spend time to hear them out, sometimes that is all one needs. Ask them if they need something, or if there is anything that you can help them with. Ask them how they feel, often parents forget about themselves while being caregivers to their children.
Strengths and weaknesses
Every individual has his own skill set of strengths and weaknesses, its always best to allow a child to grow at his pace. Concentrating more on the positive than the negative will always make life better.
Special needs parents have the same challenges, hopes, and desires as any parent. They just do what everyone else does under different circumstances.
Alisha Lalljee is a psychologist, special educator & psychotherapist practising in Bandra, Mumbai