Some children have learning difficulties, some suffer developmental delays, some develop personality issues that can make their behaviour challenging but are sometimes accompanied by extraordinary abilities. The term 'Special Needs' covers a huge range of conditions. These conditions can be caused by environmental and/or genetic influences, and can happen before, during or after birth. They cannot be classified as diseases, and cannot be treated, but the child can be helped through education and psychological support. These conditions include: autism, mental retardation, Down's syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, cerebral palsy, and learning disability.
Helping children with special needs means firmly rejecting some of the prejudices that exist within society. These individuals are not “insane”, “sick” or “disabled". Families with children with special needs, in particular, can play an important role in changing cultural attitudes.
It can be a shock discovering you have a child with special needs. The first thing families need to do is accept their situation. Many parents struggle with feelings of guilt and hopelessness. It's not their fault they have a child with special needs, but ignoring the situation could have irreversible consequences. Once they have accepted their situation they can plan properly for the future.
Parents should never pity their children. Feeling sorry for them and behaving accordingly is quite wrong. Even more dangerous than pitying them is not letting the child do anything on his/her own. Basic self-care such as eating, walking, getting dressed, getting up, and switching on the television should be done by the child. Parents tend to do these things for their children because they see them as incapable. This can destroy self-esteem and stop children from discovering their true potential. Believing they can't do them anyway, they withdraw from these activities. They start to see themselves as incapable and helpless, and never gain any independence. As they grow older, their development becomes impaired because of the skills they never learned as a child. What's more, when individuals get older, learning these skills becomes almost impossible, making life far more difficult for them and their carers.
One of the most common mistakes made by families and society at large is discriminating against people with special needs. Ignoring them, talking about their “disease” excessively, referring to them as objects to be taken care of and excluding them from activities is a serious mistake. Such behaviour causes them to see themselves as “disabled” and “sick”. Giving children the opportunity to participate in family activities and in society stops them developing a negative view of themselves. They should, for example, always be included in a family game (even if they cannot play, they should feel included), be allowed to order their own food in a restaurant, be taken seriously as individuals and included in conversations.
What these individuals need most is to grow in strength and self-confidence so that they can reach their potential and possibly go beyond it. Encouraging them to take responsibility for themselves, wherever possible, is one of the best ways of developing this self-reliance. For example; 2-year-olds are normally expected to hold a spoon and eat on their own, even if this involves getting their clothes dirty. However, a 2-year-old that is developing differently may not be able to hold the spoon or it could be difficult for him/her to put the spoon in his/her mouth. Finding these things hard doesn't mean they will never learn to do them. It's just that the learning process may happen more slowly. It is best to let them make their own mistakes, and gently guide them towards their goal. This process is gradual and requires patience.
If you want to make life easier for yourself and your child, let them do something on their own. You won't be right beside them throughout their lives. So please give them a chance to take care of themselves as much as they can, find their own interests and maybe even a job. Remember that everyone has the potential for growth.
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