Nearly one out of every nine children in the U.S. today receive special education services, as reported by the National Organization on Disability. Some of the most common special needs include speech and language delays, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cognitive delays, social and emotional disorders, and learning differences. As a parent, you will undoubtedly look for the best schools, treatments, and professionals for your child. However, a large component of your work will be psychological. As your child negotiates through school and social life, how can you ensure they feel supported, motivated, and cared for every step of the way?
Identifying Risks such as Bullying
It is important to know the challenges your child may encounter when they start school. As stated by the organization Stop Bullying, “Children with disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied.” Factors such as physical vulnerability and social skills may increase this risk. The same organization states that some children with disabilities may bully others as well. Protecting special needs children from bullies is a complex but doable task. It begins by spotting signs that your child might be a victim (including changes in personality, sleeping problems, and wanting to avoid leaving the home). If you notice these symptoms, then seeking help from school authorities is key, as is teaching your child to set limits, keeping tabs on their Internet use, and recruiting help from close friends and teachers while your child is in the playground.
Forming Supportive Bonds
If your child is starting school soon, ask the school if they have a buddy system for kids with special needs. Having a caring, responsible child around will help your child meet new people, feel more comfortable, and learn about pertinent areas within the school grounds. Creating bonds with parents of children at school will be helpful as well, since building your networks will present you with social occasions and playdates in which your child can connect with peers while having you close by for extra support.
Cooperating with Teachers
For some children — especially those with ADHD, ASD, or any condition in which regulating emotions, focusing, and planning may be more of a challenge — standard discipline might not produce good results. A child who has difficulty communicating, for instance, may kick his table repeatedly because he does not know who to express that he is tired. Teachers may lack information on how emotions like tiredness or frustration can be manifested, which is why close collaboration between parents and teachers is of the utmost importance. Parents know best which tactics work when children become agitated or when they lose focus. For instance, children with ADHD often relax by fidgeting or moving around; making them stop is only likely to increase agitation and anxiety.
If you have a child with special needs, negotiating the labyrinth of potential schools, treatments will need to be backed up with research and experimentation on socialization. Finding a school with a supportive buddy system, building strong bonds with other parents, and creating a strategy for events such as bullying will enable you and your child to feel more empowered during every step of their school and social life.