It’s a common challenge in the 21st century, parenting a child that has some sort of disability, whether it is ADHD, ADD, autism, anxiety or another. Even gifted children, while blessed with many talents, can come with their unique set of challenges or have a disability in addition to being gifted. We are continually learning more about the brain and how people learn, but there is much to be learned, even by professionals. There are gray areas everywhere with few clear cut answers. Parenting children with disabilities can be very taxing and exhaustive. Between meetings with teachers, doctor appointments, daily struggles with your kids to do every day tasks, constant research and sifting through advice (both welcomed and not), the end of the day can leave you feeling drained!
So, as a parent, how do you survive all of this? First of all, let me state that I am not a doctor, counselor, teacher or therapist. I am a parent, just like you, figuring this out as my family and I go along. Being a parent of a twice gifted child (gifted and ADD) and another child who is not yet diagnosed, but probably will be soon, these are my own tips for how to thrive in a world that often seems chaotic.
- Change your frame of mind – A disability is a challenge, it is not the end of the world! My mom had a motto that she would say to us growing up, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Challenges can be overcome…meaning there are solutions to many of the obstacles that a disability may bring. If you maintain this attitude, it will help your whole family in the long run!
- Surround yourself with families in similar situations – Talking to another person going through a similar situation is like group therapy that you don’t have to pay for! It helps you to relate, find comradery and learn how others handle challenges similar to your own. Your doctor’s office or school should be able to point you in the direction of appropriate support groups.
- Get help – Talk with doctors, teachers and other professionals that can help your child and family find solutions to problems. Building the right team is so important if you’re going to help your child be successful. Not every doctor, therapist or teacher is going to be the right fit for your child. If it doesn’t feel right, switch!
Educate yourself – Read books, listen to podcasts and sit through webinars. The best way to help your child, whether finding a new strategy or advocating for their needs and rights at school, is to educate yourself!
- Educate your child – Find books and talk to your child about their struggles. Doing research together can help them feel in charge of their life, find coping mechanisms and figure out how to turn a challenge into something positive. It will also help them feel like you’re in their corner, helping to figure things out.
- Advocate for your child/teach them to advocate for themselves – No one is going to fight for your child like you! Your child is depending on you to get the materials/services they need to succeed!
- Find a support group for your child – We often think about support groups for the parents, but having a group in which the child can relate to peers and talk about his feelings is equally important for their own well being.
- Adopt a discipline method that is right for your family – You are going to come across a copious amount of information on various discipline procedures, both good and bad! These will come from books, doctors, therapists, family and friends. Trust me, we have received some bad advice about how to change behaviors in our children. Trust your gut! If discipline is causing you and your family more stress than actually fixing the problem, adopt a different method!
- Set aside time for just your family – I cannot stress this enough! Having quality time with just your family, where you’re just having fun, not worrying about rules or how others think you should parent and just enjoying your family as they are is probably the most important thing you can do for your family. These times will help you to build a bond that will help carry you through the hard times.
- Get into nature – I know schedules can get crazy, but make time to get into nature! Studies have shown that green space can calm anxiety and ADHD symptoms. It also allows kids to just be kids! Let them play in the dirt, catch bugs, pick flowers and explore!
- Play with your child – Play time is so important! It allows you to bond with your child and to also see the world through your child’s eyes! If your child is young, play pretend and reverse the roles so that you’re the child and they are the parent. It is interesting to see what parenting techniques our children learn from us!
- Have an outlet for yourself – Parenting a child with any disability is stressful! Make sure that you are making time for yourself. If you’ve had a stressful day, take time to regroup, gather your thoughts and calm your body and mind. When we do this, we are able to see things more clearly and maybe come up with a better solution to the problem that made our day so stressful.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness – This is one that we are still trying to work on. If your child has ADHD/ADD, autism, anxiety or is even gifted regulating their emotions can be difficult. Practicing meditation and mindfulness helps children learn how to calm their bodies and realize when they are losing control. If sitting still and meditating is not going to happen because your child can’t sit still, try coloring, listening to music, or playing with play dough instead.
- Have a bin of “stress toys” – As I stated earlier, children with certain disabilities sometimes have difficulty regulating their emotions. Having a bin of fidgets, play dough, putty, bubbles or coloring materials can help calm them when they are having an emotional breakdown.
Use timers and alarms – If your child has ADHD/ADD, you know how difficult it can be to get them to complete something or switch tasks. Using timers, alarms and even some apps can help remove you from the equation. It fosters independence and helps prevent you from becoming a nagging parent.
No one method is fool-proof or perfect. It takes time, effort and a lot of trial-and-error to find the right solutions for your family. By educating yourself and your family and talking with various professionals and other families, you will begin to build up your repertoire of tools to tackle your challenges! As I stated earlier, I’m not a professional in this area, I’m just a parent who’s gone through some of this herself and is continually searching for answers. I wish you luck! You’re not alone! There are so many others out there! Take a deep breath! God chose you to be this child’s parent! You can do this!