Parenting Teens with Special Needs

Parenting teenagers is not for cowards. The mere mention of the word “adolescence” can send some people into a panic. Raging hormones, changing bodies and eyes toward the future is a tough combination to try and manage. Children that have been compliant and relatively easy to handle wake up one morning as aliens foreign to their parents and the ways of the family.

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Add in any kind of special need and parenting becomes that much more complicated. It’s true that not all children are the same. Even among what would be considered “normal” development children vary tremendously. But children tasked with managing a developmental disorder on top of the changes the teen years bring have a heavy load indeed.

Remember you have to survive these years too. You have to still be living and carrying on after the children graduate high school and move on. Your mental health and physical well-being is just as important as theirs. What are some things you can be doing along the way to ensure you both survive and thrive during these years? Here are some ideas for surviving teens with special needs:

  • Take care of yourself. Work-out, spend time doing hobbies you love, drink plenty of water, eat healthy and get your sleep. Taking care of yourself will empower you to take care of those around you and to hang in there when the teen years hit and the going gets rough. While for many time is a factor, try squeezing in some reading, for example, while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office. If you are in the car a lot, perhaps a book on tape would give you a mental break while you are going about your day. Remember that “fringe” time and travel prepared.
  • Connect with others. Parenting is not for cowards and it surely is not meant to be done alone. Whatever special needs your child has, find a support group or community for that type of need. Meet other families with children who have similar diagnoses. Even though your teen is desiring more independence, you as the parent know what they can handle. Playdates are not just for preschoolers although you may not want to use that terminology. Connecting with other families can give you a place to problem solve and find appropriate solutions when it comes to age-appropriate activities such as driving and dating.
  • Plan for the future. You have no doubt been supporting your child in school helping the teachers understand your particular child’s needs. You have worked tirelessly on accommodations for your child and been wrestling day and night for inclusion to ensure she receives the same education and benefits as all the other students. But have you thought past high school? Have you thought about what comes next? There are lots of options out there. Now is the time to start googling and planning your child’s next move. College isn’t the only option. Vocational schools and internships could be just the right training ground for your child.
  • Know that you are valued. Parenting your child with special needs undoubtedly is a thankless, never-ending job. But your work loving and molding and preparing him for the future is a role only you can fill. You were made for it. Know that you are necessary and important and seen even if you never hear those words.

Parenting any child is seemingly never-ending but the reality is that most children do grow up and move out and have their own life. There will be some that are unable to live on their own and will require additional supports from you or perhaps another living situation. But this season will pass. Your child will not be a teenager forever. You will survive this season.

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