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10 tips for caring for a child with developmental problems

In order to be able to truly help a child with special needs or special traits , parents need to adopt a certain attitude towards the process. These are some general facts which apply to all children with developmental problems regardless of the diagnosis , that will hopefully help you understand what that right mindset is.

1. First thing’s first - accept the child for who they are: as a rule children flourish in warm and secure environments . Not feeling accepted can be devastating to a child’s self esteem .

2. Educate yourself about your child’s diagnosis: this has 2 advantages. First will help you better understand your child’s behaviour . Most importantly will allow you to work in partnership with the various professionals and be part of the care plan. Children whose parents are well-educated and actively involved in therapy fair better in the long term compared to those who not.

3. Be pragmatic : Don’t expect that the problem will be solved overnight. The process of helping a child with developmental difficulties is often a long and bumpy road with ups and downs and requires a significant amount of effort involved from parents. This can understandably be frustrating and exhausting for some families. There are no magic wands or easy solutions. Unfortunately there is loads of hard work ahead and failure is not an option.

4. Children with special needs view the world differently: each time you find yourself disappointed or upset from your child’s baffling behaviour, take a pause and ask yourself what may be going on in your child’s mind. Trivialities and minor things may have an enormous importance or impact to them. A child with autism may have a meltdown from hearing your vacuum cleaner or may be obsessed with arranging her toys in line. This is not over-reacting or odd. They merely experience the world in a different way than you.

5. There is no ‘one size fits all’ with therapy: Developmental interventions should be tailored to a child’s and family’s needs, temperament and profile. Just because a certain kind of treatment worked well in your friend’s child, this doesn’t mean is suitable for your child too. if you have tried a certain type of therapy for a reasonable amount of time and there are no tangible results, then maybe is time to try something different. If its working keep doing it , if not move on.

6. Small steps are the best way to tackle big goals : setting realistic and achievable goals during therapy process makes things more practical and leads to less disappointments . If you have a child with minimal speech output and social skills , expecting that within a few months of therapy you will be able to have a conversation in the car about how was her day at school is probably unrealistic. Rather, if the progress was more along the lines of improved eye contact and vocabulary is nevertheless a step forward and a reason to celebrate. This is now your next starting point towards the next step.

7. Work in close partnership with the professionals involved : the process of helping your child is not a solo act . Is a team work involving doctors , therapists , teachers , psychologists and last but not least you . The professionals are expert in their fields but you as parents are expert in your child. Understandably there may be disagreements and different opinions but ultimately keep in mind you are on the same team and share a common goal – to help your child. All these people need to communicate well with one another for this collaborative approach to be effective.

8. Build on their strengths: Don’t just focus on their disabilities. All children with special needs have areas that they find naturally difficult and areas they are really good at. These may be sports , art , numbers , music , building staff – each and every one of us has areas of capability . These natural talents will ultimately be the cornerstone of your child’s future success and should be remediated and strengthened. Work on these too!

9. Improve unwanted behaviours with the right motives : carrots ( rewards) work better than sticks ( punishment) to improve behaviours. This is backed by scientific evidence and applies even more in children with developmental disabilities. Rewarding good behaviour when it happens will be a motive for long term behavioural change. Rewards should be immediate ( right after the behaviour ) , clear and consistent ( every single time the behaviour occurs) . You can use things like

- Extra attention and loads of praise ( usually this is more than enough )

- Extra time on a favourite play

- Sticker chart

- Time in the park

10. Look after your self too: caring for a child with special needs can be tough , overwhelming and exhausting . There are times you may feel demoralized , discouraged and a wreck. Or at other times it may feel that your efforts are not paying back or that you are not good enough parents. Don’t be too harsh on your self , we are only humans and no one is perfect . Children with special needs don’t actually need perfect parents. They need good enough parents with just about enough energy to look after them and a positive attitude. For this to be the case you need to steal some time for respite , fun and rest. If you have no one to look after your child for you to have this much needed rest, speak to one of your professionals .


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