March celebrates Development Disabilities Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of children between the ages of 3-17 diagnosed with a developmental disability has increased.
It’s important to remember that every child develops at his or her own pace. If you are a parent or foster parent of an infant or young child, developmental milestones are typically discussed at each pediatrician visit and focus around the following areas:
- Gross motor skills include large muscle groups for movement such as sitting up, standing, walking, running or keeping balance.
- Fine motor skills involve use of the hands and fingers for self-feeding, drawing, dressing or playing.
- Language encompasses more than simply talking. Language also includes the ability to nonverbally communicate through body language, eye contact and gestures.
- Cognitive or thinking skills go beyond academic learning to include reasoning, problem solving and remembering.
- Social skills account for interactions with others, from developing relationships to responding to others’ feelings.
Always discuss any concerns about your child’s development with a nurse, doctor or teacher. If your child is diagnosed with a development disability or developmental delay, ask to be connected with local resources such as early intervention programs, special needs preschools, parent support groups or your county board of developmental disabilities.
Parenting a child with developmental disabilities
No matter when your child’s development disability or delay is identified, it’s not unusual to feel sad when you receive the diagnosis. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there are resources to help your child fulfill his or her potential. Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Do learn what you can about your child’s challenges. This can help you learn strategies to make your life, and your child’s life, easier.
Don’t feel like you need to be a superhero. Parents of children with developmental disabilities and delays are like any other parent. We lose our patience, raise our voices and have bad days. It’s OK. As long as your child is safe and loved, you are doing a good job.
Do reach out to other families. Having a network of support is important, both for you and your child. If you are a parent of a newly diagnosed child, it can feel isolating and overwhelming. That’s when the support of other families parenting children with developmental delays can feel like a lifeline.
Don’t compare yourselves to other families or feel like other parents or families won’t understand your situation. Spread awareness, teach empathy and reinforce to others that children with developmental delays or disabilities are human and deserve the same love, affection and opportunities as others.
Do plan ahead whenever possible. While it’s impossible to prepare for every situation, a little bit of preplanning can help when your child is in distress. From writing a behavior plan at school to setting up long-term financing for future therapy, adaptive equipment or housing needs, having the foresight to anticipate challenging scenarios can allow you to develop a strategy with a clear head, rather than simply reacting under duress.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. From respite care providers to family or friends, parents don’t have to shoulder the challenges on their own. Caring for yourself will, in turn, better equip you to care for your children.
Parenting foster children with developmental disabilities
An estimated 30-40 percent of children in foster care are enrolled in special education classes. That’s why it’s so critical to find foster parents for children with developmental disabilities. If you have considered becoming a foster parent but worry about how you would parent a child with developmental challenges, ask yourself one important question. Do you want to make a difference in a child’s life? If your answer is yes, then you’ll discover there are many ways to help them achieve their full potential. Take SAFY’s 30-second foster parent assessment to see if becoming a foster parent is right for you.