Tips on Parenting a Baby with Special Needs
Weighing how your baby looks and acts in relation to other babies will tear you apart. As I was coming to terms with parenting a special-needs baby, every time I examined a baby in my office I would think, “Our baby doesn’t look or feel like that.” In reality, I was filling my mind with the gut-wrenching feelings that our baby was less valuable than other babies. The real breakthrough came when I was able to focus on the special qualities of our baby rather than on what he was missing compared with other babies.
Join a Community for Parents with Special Needs Children
Find out what resources, such as early intervention programs, are available within your community. Consider joining a Down syndrome support group if there is one in your area. You will be amazed at the practical suggestions and insights from parents who have gone through situations similar to yours and have coped and thrived. One mother of a Down child wrote to us: “Stephen will bring flashes of color to your life that you never knew existed.” Some parents plunge right into as many support groups and community resources as they can and feel comfortable immersing themselves in learning as much as possible about parenting their child with special needs.
Other parents feel more comfortable choosing only a few support resources, deciding it is better for their family situation if they do not focus their entire lives on Down syndrome but, rather, incorporate their special-needs baby into the mainstream of family life. They feel this approach emphasizes more of the individuality of their special baby. For example, when Stephen rubs his palm across my cheek, the caress of his soft touchy hand is unlike any touch I have ever felt.
Attachment Parenting Provides Harmony
With special needs babies, the attachment style of parenting really shines. It gives you the ability to read the special needs of your baby, almost like having a sixth sense. You will need a deeper sense of intuition and observation because your baby’s cues may initially not be so easy to read. In my experience, parents who practice attachment parenting get in harmony with their special needs baby and develop an incredible sensitivity toward him. This sensitivity carries over into their social, marital, and professional lives. Set up sibling sensitivity. This sensitivity is also contagious to siblings. Parenting special babies is a family affair. I have noticed that when siblings pitch in and care for their special needs brother or sister, it mellows out their usual egocentric and selfish natures, enabling them to become giving, nurturing, and sensitive children.
Maintain a Healthy Family Structure
In general, a special-needs baby can elevate the sensitivity level of the whole family. Be a happy couple. On the other hand, parenting a handicapped baby can cause marital stress. It is necessary to keep some balance in your babycare. Some mothers focus totally on the special needs of the baby and withdraw from the needs of other members of the family. It is natural for a mother of a special-needs baby to feel, “My baby needs me so much; my husband is a big boy and can take care of himself.” Each spouse needs to care for the other so that they can better care for their baby.
A Word for Friends and Relatives …
Friends, be sensitive. A word of advice for friends and relatives: The worst thing you can do is shower sympathy on the parents of a Down syndrome baby. Statements like “I’m sorry for you…” Devalue the baby—and the parents. After all, mother delivered a baby, perhaps not “normal” by our standards, but a unique person who will make his or her own contribution to that family and to society. After the birth of our baby, when the parade of friends began, the most uplifting statement I remember is from an experienced grandmother who offered, “My wish is for you to become excited about your special baby.”
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