Communication for Parents of Special Needs Children

by Felicity Dryer

Parenting any type of child is a challenging vocation; ask any mother  or father who tries to get their teenager to keep a clean room or adhere to a curfew. But add in a learning or behavioral disorder and you’ve just raised the bar. For these parents, it might seem at times that nothing can make their roles less stressful and demanding.

But there is something that can help both the parent and the special needs child help each other: communication.

Whether it be through words or a gesture, communication is vital if you are parenting a special needs child. Learning how to interact with a child with any disability is key in helping them relay what they want and need from you and helping them understand that they are loved and understood by you.

A mother and her child in the classroom

Since your special needs child likely spends a good part of his or her day with a teacher, it is also vital that you communicate with that individual. Verbalizing your expectations and concerns can in turn help them be better educators to your child.

Parents and their Special Needs Children

Sometimes a special needs child may not communicate in the conventional sense; for instance, some autistic children may not speak, though being nonverbal can also be a trait of other types of disabilities. In these cases, you will have to use a system that works best for you and the child.

You might have the child point to a picture, utilize sign language or use high tech communication devices or applications. Find what makes your child most comfortable and expressive. You may need to “listen” with your eyes rather than your ears, but listening is listening.

And your listening will show that you are being empathetic, an important part of communicating with your special needs child. Showing empathy can help to lessen any frustration and anxiety your child might be feeling about his/her disability. If you appear understanding and optimistic and reassuring, your child might be in a position to better cope and to work with you to form strategies designed to help them–and you–succeed.

Communication: Parents and Special Education Teachers

A child writes 'I am I am I am' on a chalkboard

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do when it comes to your child’s education is to communicate with his or her teacher. While this is applicable in all cases, not just for special needs children, it can be even more crucial when a child has a learning disability. You can use weekly communications–via email or phone–to convey reminders, ask about your child’s progress and talk about issues specific to your child, such as “He tires easily” or “She needs to take frequent breaks.”

Listening is as important during these conversations as it is when interacting with your child. The teacher may need clarification, the child may be struggling with a specific topic or problem, or the teacher could have noticed certain behavior in the classroom that might be different than what the child exhibits at home. Remember that the teacher is not being judgmental or critical; your child’s best interests are surely being addressed.

You might also extend your communication beyond the special education teacher. You can, and in some cases should, converse with members of a Special Education Advisory Committee (most districts have one), administrators or school psychologists.

When it comes to special education and communication, chances are you can never have said too much; an ongoing dialogue can ensure that you the parent and your child’s education system are at all times on the same page.

Felicity DryerOriginally born in Flagstaff, Arizona, Felicity Dryer was raised by her parents (more or less modern-day hippies) to always make her health a top priority. Throughout her life, she has focused on encouraging others to reach for and achieve their personal goals. Now she lives in sunny Los Angeles, where she is pursuing her career as a freelance health writer, and continuing to help those seeking encouragement to keep moving forward to achieve their goals. Visit Felicity Dryer’s website for more of her writing.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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