Parenting a Child With Special Needs: 7 habits to help you be more effective

. December 1, 2017.

Many parents of special needs children appear to parent with grace, balance and energy. In addition they also seem remarkably stress-free and organized. How, in the face of all of these challenges and more, do they keep it together? What habits do they embrace that allow them to be highly effective parents for their children?

1 They are proactive and advocate for their children and educate others.
Parents become experts about their children and their needs. They conduct ongoing research; ask questions of therapists, doctors, specialists, and other professionals; and keep an organized binder full of notes and important information. Because they create and add to their at-home special needs libraries, they are knowledgeable about vernacular, treatments and services. Well versed in the state and federal laws that regulate services for their children, they are powerful advocates for treatment, services, and support— in and outside of school.

2 They maintain a sense of normalcy within the family.
Effective parents realize that although everyone in the family is affected by their child’s disorder, the family is not defined by it. Parents work to ensure that siblings have childhoods and do not take on adult responsibilities. They encourage siblings to spend time with their friends.

3 They take care of themselves.
Parents nurture their needs and recognize that doing so is vital for them as well as their children. Effective parents address themselves holistically and take care of their physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.

They eat nutritious, unprocessed food and schedule time for regular exercise. They engage in activities that offer creative or intellectual enrichment.

4 They manage their stress.
Effective parents are intentional about reducing stress in their lives by setting time aside each day to promote calm and centering. By adopting practices such as prayer, deep breathing and meditation, they replenish their inner reserves.

Rebecca, a mom of a son who has an autism diagnosis, says, “When in doubt I choose grace, to forgive people for letting me down or for rejecting my son, for whatever reason.”

5 They make rest a priority.
Parenting a child with special needs can elevate fatigue to a new level. Sometimes parents do not realize the extent of their exhaustion. I certainly did not, until my child’s physical therapist pointed this out to me. Effective parents realize the importance of getting to bed as early as possible or taking naps to offset lost sleep.

6 They surround themselves with energy givers.
People are either energy zappers or energy givers. Effective parents opt to spend time in the company of people who lift them up, make them feel confident, positive and happy. They realize energy givers help them to feel energized, inspired and motivated.

7 They have a support group.
Parenting a child with special needs can be lonely. However, there is no need to be alone on the journey. Effective parents are part of, or have created, a group whose parenting journeys are similar to theirs.

For information about local support groups check out the Ann Arbor Family Special Needs Guide (November, 2017) at