According to the CDC, “developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas.” With one in six children in the U.S. having one or more developmental disabilities or delays, a growing population of caregivers to the developmentally disabled also exists. Read on to discover some helpful tips for caring for a disabled child and learning how to find support for this sometimes overwhelming role.
Differences in developmental and intellectual disabilities
Developmental and intellectual disabilities are often related, but they are not always the same thing. Intellectual disabilities appear before the age of 18 and are characterized by a limited mental capacity and challenges with adaptive behaviors, such as handling routines and social situations. Developmental disabilities appear before the age of 22 and include lifelong disabilities that affect physical and/or cognitive functioning. Essentially, though, the term “developmental disability” can encompass those with both intellectual and physical disabilities.
Tips for caring for a disabled child
- Optimistic parenting
Taking an optimistic approach to your parenting style can be beneficial for both you and your child. Research has shown that high parental optimism actually decreases the likelihood that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities will also develop behavior problems. The theory behind this is that parents are able to take a more positive approach, and this allows them to better interact with their child using effective positive strategies.
- Staying organized
As a caregiver, your to-do list of care may seem long. Bathing, dressing, feeding, cooking, driving, giving medicine, and providing emotional support are just a few of the responsibilities you take care of on a daily basis. It can help to create a special notebook to be used as a “health journal” to keep track of routines that are relevant to share with your child’s doctor. Things like medication times and logging activities can be quickly jotted down, so if your child’s doctor has specific questions, you have a handy source to reference. If your child struggles with getting dressed, for example, and you make it a focal point to practice with them daily in the form of a fun activity, you may notice improvements that can be logged in the notebook, too.
Ensuring that your child is engaging in ongoing, fun activities can play an important role in everyone’s mental health, and over time, can directly lead to improvements in fine and gross motor skills. You can start by exploring a variety of fun activities to see which ones are the best fit for your child to engage in regularly.
Deciding which games and activities are ideal for your child will depend on what skills they may benefit from focusing on the most, as well as their particular interests. For example, if your child has an interest in toy cars and trucks, he or she may love a game of outside object tic-tac-toe where sidewalk chalk is used to make the game board and toy cars and trucks are used in place of X’s and O’s. In other cases, outdoor painting or water play may be more their speed, or using building blocks and puzzles indoors might end up being their favorite. Ultimately, it is most helpful to work with the activities they seem to enjoy and thrive in the most.
If there are particular skills that you want to focus on (like getting dressed), a game can be made of that, too. One game idea is to fill up a laundry basket with adult-sized clothing items like hats, socks, shirts, and shorts, have your child race to one side of the room and put an item on over their clothes, and then race back. You can compete with them, or have them race the clock to beat their own times.
- Considering a service or companion dog
There are an abundance of benefits to getting a service dog for disabled children. Among them are increased awareness, improved communication, decreased anxiety, and improved social interaction. Not every child with a developmental disability will qualify for a service dog. However, a companion or emotional support dog can provide numerous benefits like the ones above and bring joy into any home.
Parent support groups in Little Rock
With your important role as a caregiver of a disabled child or a child that falls on the autism spectrum, you may be seeking ways to find support. Access to social support can help mitigate some of the negative stressors associated with caregiving. A wide range of support groups for caregivers exist, so there is likely at least one that will provide you with the support you need.
- Emotional support groups, both in person and online, can be a safe haven for parents to discuss some of the emotional challenges they face. Simply speaking to other parents in similar situations can provide some comfort, and other parents may have solutions to offer from their own personal experiences.
- School-based groups allow you to meet and interact with parents of other children with disabilities that may attend the same school or a school within the same region as your child. These groups are a means of having a stronger voice in your local area to advocate for students with special needs.
- Regional groups are usually non-profit organizations that can be found locally, and offer resources, services, and support to caregiver parents.
- National groups are large non-profit organizations that often reach parents through local chapters that provide a wide range of services to both parents and children. This site alone lists eight national support groups and explains the individual benefits of each.
For more information
If you are seeking options for treatment for intellectual and developmental disabilities in Little Rock, or considering joining some parent support groups in Little Rock, Integrity, Inc. would be happy to be your one-stop resource for more information. Contact us online, or call us at 501-406-0442 to see how we can help you and your child through providing care, services, and resources today.