Children who have special needs tend to experience depression more often than others. But it’s important to remember that it isn’t just the child with special needs who can be experiencing the depression. The fact is that families of children who have special needs also tend to experience depression and depressed thoughts more often. Parents can feel overwhelmed with a diagnosis and with all the extra work that may be involved in caring for and raising a child with special needs. Additionally, siblings can feel they’re not getting as much attention as a brother or sister who has special needs. Shari Duddy, special education teacher, recommends that all family members learn to deal with the situation as effectively as possible, especially when those family members are living in the same household. Following are some tips for keeping depression at bay for children who have special needs, as well as for their parents and siblings.
For parents of children with special needs
- First and foremost, become educated about your child’s specific diagnosis. There are myriad resources when it comes to learning about all diagnoses that can determine if a child has special needs. Talk to your child’s doctor; talk with school counselors, administrators, and other professionals both inside and outside the school system; talk with other parents of children with special needs, especially those parents whose children have the same diagnosis your child has; read books and essays about your child’s diagnosis written by credible authorities on the subject.
- Understand that your child has not just limitations, but strengths as well. Keep your eye out for those strengths, and when you discover them, help your child to develop them. Encourage your child every step of the way, and try to avoid comparing your child with other kids.
- Join a support group, especially one that enables you to not only learn about experiences other parents of special needs children have, but also enables you to share your experiences. Parents whose children have the same diagnosis as your child can be not only a wealth of information, but a wealth of support also.
- Be mindful of your own emotional needs, issues, and challenges. Don’t ignore your own care. Your child’s care is dependent on your caring for yourself as well as for him.
- Try to remember that, just because your child may not have the future you envisioned, she can have a future that includes healthy relationships as well as a future that is built around her particular strengths.
For siblings of children with special needs
- Siblings of children with special needs need to be able to express their feelings. Give all your children time and opportunity to express their feelings, even the negative ones. Try to give each child time apart from your child who has special needs in order to express these feelings openly without fear of judgment.
- Try not to give your other children too much responsibility for the care of a child who has special needs. Always remember that your other children are children; just because they don’t have ‘special needs,’ does not mean they are more mature than your child with special needs.
- Observe siblings’ moods and demeanors. Observe not only their treatment of, and mood with, your child with special needs, but also their demeanors when your special needs child isn’t around. If you begin to notice changes in moods or an increase in anxiety, get that child help as quickly as possible.
- Provide encouragement not just for your child with special needs, but also for your other children as well. It’s easy when there is a child with special needs in the family for parents to forget their other children need encouragement and support as well.
- Try to spend individual time with each child, even if it’s just a few minutes every day.
For children with special needs
- Encouragement is key for all children, but it’s especially vital for children who have special needs. Your child with special needs likely is feeling singled out, and perhaps is even comparing himself to other children. Be sure to provide as much of that needed encouragement as possible.
- Encourage your child with special needs to get involved in clubs that support her interests.
- Observe your child with special needs. If he begins exhibiting changes in mood, demeanor, or behavior, especially if he is exhibiting signs of depression, seek help as quickly as possible.