Having a child with special needs presents parents with unique and sometimes overwhelming challenges. Disabled children often have more medical issues, require additional physical care and need more supervision and attention than a non-disabled child. Parents are confronted with the possibility that their child might die within days, weeks or months of birth. Sometimes family members, friends and even strangers make insensitive or critical comments or feel uncomfortable around a child with special needs.

While all of these problems associated with having a child with a disability can be difficult to deal with, most families will agree that their disabled child has brought much happiness along with the pain. The following suggestions will help you to better cope with your child's disability and learn to find joy in this unique parenting journey.

1. Become informed

Understanding exactly what is happening in your child's body and what you can expect in the upcoming days, months and years will help you to overcome fear of the unknown and prepare adequately to take care of your child's needs. Find out what special care your child will require and seek out resources that are available to help. Ask questions of your doctor, do research at the library, and find organizations that can provide information and support for families dealing with this situation.

Talk to other parents of disabled children and ask them about how they have handled things in their family. Most parents will be eager to share their experiences. Also, learn what your rights are under the law. Many states require schools to provide special assistance to children with disabilities. Don't hesitate to take advantage of these rights and resources. That is what they are there for.

2. Join a support group

Because such a small percentage of children are born with birth defects, you might feel as if you are all alone in your circumstances. It is valuable to find other families who are facing similar challenges and can share ideas about how to cope with your new role. A support group will help you feel that you are not alone and will provide a community of resources and information. More experienced parents can share experiences and help you resolve issues.

Support groups can also be valuable sources of information regarding what to expect in terms of your child's education, financial help and other issues. If no support group exists in your area, start your own. Even a small group can provide you with companionship and understanding.

3. Take time out for yourself

Taking care of a disabled child can be extremely taxing, both physically and emotionally. It is vital that you carve out some time for yourself regularly; this will allow you to return to your child more relaxed and rejuvenated. Find a babysitter who you can trust to care for your child's particular needs.

Some states even have temporary respite services for parents of special needs children. For more information about services in your state, contact the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at 3030 C. Street SW, Washington D.C., 20201 or call (202) 205-8348.

4. Find ways to provide your child with great experiences

Even though your child may not be able to do the same things other kids do, there is no reason that he or she shouldn't have opportunities to learn and grow. Schools are becoming increasingly more willing and able to offer fun and stimulating classroom experiences for children with special needs. There are also many camps designed especially for disabled children. If money is tight, there are often scholarships available to help ease the financial burden.

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