Admitting your child is different and taking steps to deal with it
“Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy makin’ other plans.”
– Beautiful Boy John Lennon
Her son is problematic and disrupts class continually. He fights and hurts other children, and finally, personnel at the school have no choice but to get the child assessed. Their findings show that he has some form of autism and needs to be placed in a special-needs school.
The mother continues to bury her head in the sand and refuses to enrol her child in that school, resulting in a constant battle with teachers and parents at school.
Unfortunately, the above scenario is all too real, and for answers on how parents can deal with these situations, Family and Religion reached out to Kaysia Kerr, CEO of the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC), who said that autism is a spectrum disorder and that the child’s characteristic behaviour is dependent on where he or she falls on that spectrum.
“Many children with autism live meaningful and productive lives, provided there is expert early intervention and support. Parents sometimes go into grief as their expectations of having a child who develops according to accepted norms are seemingly not their reality. The grief process might take a while, making support in understanding the disorder critical,” Kerr said.
The good news for parents of children with special needs is that there are avenues for support and education, including the NPSC, Kerr said.
She said the commission helps parents to understand the specifics of autism, as well as other disabilities and coordinates varied types of support, to include psychosocial support for parents.
“Through this process, parents are empowered and are directed and helped through the initial frightening first steps to intervention. Connecting parents to other networks of parents who have children with autism and other special needs, especially those who have overcome grief and are coping well, is also a useful strategy,” Kerr said.
According to her, parents are made to see the child first, and not the disability, as a disability should not be used to solely define a child.
Pointing out that a child with a disability is far more than the disability he has and should be given every support and avenue to develop, she said parents are guided through a process to this level of understanding and acceptance.
“The reality is that parents, on hearing that their children have a disability, generally show signs of grief, with some plummeting deeper into despair,” said Kerr.
“All the stages of grief are evident, and sometimes, even after seemingly passing a stage, parents revert to those emotions. There is denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance,” she said.
For the mother who refuses to acknowledge that her child has a special need, she said getting to the acceptance stage is a process, and that usually helps.
“Parents must seek counselling support as delaying this can be debilitating and also impacts the child’s ability to get immediate access to support services,” cautioned Kerr.
However, all is not lost; Kerr said there are several options available to parents in those situations, among them the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI) Special Education Unit, which is staffed by competent personnel.
“There are also regional special-needs coordinators attached to each of the six education regions. Of course, there is the National Parenting Support Commission, an agency of the MoEYI, that gives support to parents and also coordinates other supports for unique needs. The commission has established working partnerships with different ministries, departments and agencies of Government, and non-governmental organisations that offer services to the community of persons with disabilities,” she said.
Dealing with children with special needs can be a handful, and it is even more so for single parents. However, Kerr pointed out that having two parents does not mean that the efforts and interest in the child would be less. The emphasis, for her, is getting the child whatever he or she needs; the educational needs and other services must remain the important focus.
Kerr added that although the NPSC has seen an increase in the number of parents who have children with disabilities accessing the services, the appeal is still being made to parents to contact the commission as reports are still coming in of children who remain at home because they have a disability.
“We take great care in explaining how you can support your children, and we also assist parents with advocacy,” she said.