There are differences that exist for all children. And no matter what those differences may be, there is support for you as a parent, and of course your child.

Kids with additional needs, such as a disability or medical condition, could face some challenges and restrictions as they grow up and experience the world around them, such as attending school or getting a job.

Here, we want to equip parents with the knowledge, resources and resilience for supporting their child or children who have additional needs.

Acknowledge your feelings

Following the diagnosis of your child's additional needs - whether it's a disability or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - it's very common, and completely normal, to experience a vast range of feelings that can continue to interchange throughout your and your child's journey.

Initially hearing a diagnosis might make you sad, especially when it comes to thinking about the hopes and dreams you had for your child and what they might grow to have for themselves.

You might feel guilty, fearful, confused, or relieved that you have a diagnosis (particularly if it's been a lengthy path to getting said diagnosis).

Know that none of these feelings are wrong. Allow yourself to experience them, as it's all part of coming to terms with a diagnosis and moving forward. And there's no time limit on this, take as long as you need.

Seek support

Whichever the medical professional, whether that be a GP or specialist, is that's providing you the diagnosis will be able to share plenty of support resources as you and your child embark on this new life journey. They'll of course be there to check in with whenever you need and to monitor the progress of your child as they grow up.

Other reliable sources include government, hospital and university websites. Look for resources with scientific backing.

You then of course have community support groups where you, and your child, may be able to meet with other families in similar situations. This will be such a great way for you to not only bond and share advice with other parents, but your child could make some friends there, too.

If you feel as though your mental health is struggling, see a health professional. You can also call Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.

Raising Children Network also outline on their website every day things you can do to support your child's development, including:

  • Seek early intervention. Your child’s medical team will help you work out what’s likely to help your child most. And if your child is a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant, you can also talk about early intervention with your NDIS planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC).

  • Talk with your child about their condition at a level they can understand. You might need to explain to your child that they need to do things differently from other children. Or that they’ll have a lot of medical appointments and hospital visits.

  • Promote your child’s mental health and wellbeing by tuning in to their feelings, building positive relationships, and helping them have a healthy lifestyle.

  • Help others understand your child’s additional needs. When grown-ups and children understand your child’s condition, they can interact and play more meaningfully with your child. You can ask your child’s professionals or a support group for fact sheets or make your own to give to teachers, GPs, other parents and so on.

  • Be an advocate for your child. Health professionals are experts in your child’s health and medical care. But you’re an expert on your child. No-one knows your child better than you do, and it’s OK to speak up for your child’s needs, especially if you have concerns about any area of your child’s health, development or wellbeing.

Address parent relationship challenges

There's no denying that with an additional needs diagnosis, there will be ups and downs - for the whole family. But know that it can also make you all stronger, individually and as a unit.

Some pressures to be mindful of though include:

  • Finances. You may need to purchase equipment for your child, take them to regular specialist appointments or hospital stays which could put strain on family finances. See if you're eligible for NDIS financial support here.

  • Changes in employment. You and/or your partner may need to alter your work hours to provide more care for your child with additional needs. Talk to your significant other about ways you can balance the workload and look for flexible job options.

  • Varying parenting styles. Knowing how to best parent your child, especially if there are any particular behavioural needs they have, can be difficult to navigate. Talk to a psychologist or disability specialist to plan appropriate and effective behaviour and parenting strategies for you and your child.

  • Less quality and intimate time. For couples, caring for a child with additional needs can mean you don't give each other as much TLC. Be sure to still actively pencil in time together. This may mean asking a family member or friend to babysit or looking into whether there is respite care or babysitters who are trained in looking after children with additional needs.

Always seek help from a family or couple's psychologist if conflict and tensions are occurring regularly and/or increasing in severity and your current problem-solving isn't effective. It may also be time to speak to a professional if you notice a loss of sex drive or withdrawal from one another.

Support their siblings

If you have other children who are typically developing, it's important to make sure they feel just as important as your child with additional needs.

Listen to them, spend time with them, share you feelings with them - let them know that, as you experienced yourself as a parent, anything they're feeling is OK and you are there to support them through it.

If you're noticing any behaviour from siblings including sleeping and/or more or less than usual, being more irritable, avoiding or being aggressive toward their sibling with additional needs, struggling with school work or not wanting to spend time with friends, it could be a good time to seek advice and support with a psychologist or counsellor.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime, in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Article originally published by: Raising Children Network

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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