Advice for Parents Expecting a Child with a Disability

Disabilities are physical or mental challenges that prevent people from being able to perform certain functions as well as most others. Children with disabilities may be born with them or they may develop sometime after birth. Common childhood disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, and issues that can disrupt learning such as dyslexia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sensory processing deficits. Dealing with disability in childhood will have a lifelong impact on a person’s emotional, mental, and physical health, as well as their social interactions. Whether that impact is positive or negative has a lot to do with the support they receive at home. 

Whether you are expecting a child and you learned about their disability from prenatal testing or you are adopting a child with an existing disability into your home, you can help facilitate a healthy environment that supports their healthy and happy development. 

Preparing Your Home for a Child’s Disability

  •  If your child has a mobility issue and has to use an aid such as a wheelchair, make sure there is at least one step-free entrance into the home. Consider installing wheelchair ramps over stairs to give child more accessibility. Make sure doorways and hallways are wide enough and free of obstruction. 
  • The bathroom can be another room that children with disabilities find difficult to navigate. If possible, create a roll-in or walk-in shower option and lower shower controls to a child’s height to make bathing easier. If your child is visually impaired, have faucet handles labeled in braille. Install slip-proof flooring that can stand up to the humidity of the bathroom. Grab bars by the shower, tub, and toilet can help children with mobility disorders get up from these low-profile seats.
  • Children with sensory input disorders need a clean and uncluttered home free of distractions. Set up a sensory corner where they can retreat and calm down when feeling overwhelmed. Since sensory processing issues are different for every child, only you know how best to personalize the area for your child’s needs. 

Financial Tips for Parents of a Child with a Disability

From renovating your house to make it safe to paying for medical care, there are various financial costs when it comes to raising a child with a disability. Add those costs on top of the base price tag of raising a kid and it can seem overwhelming for most parents. Fortunately, there are resources available for these families. 

In the United States, children with disabilities are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. These payments can be used to fund a competent insurance plan that covers the child’s needs. A good health insurance plan is crucial for children with disability. Studies show that children with disabilities who are insured are more likely to have a primary care provider, to be able to reach a specialist, and to have access to supporting services. Furthermore, parents of insured children with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their children's primary care, medications, specialty care, and overall health care. 

When it comes to other expenses, such as modifying your home, there are special grants available that can help cover the cost. While applying for grants is a time-consuming process, you can reap thousands of dollars that can contribute to the household costs of raising a child with a disability. It may even be worth your time to hire a grant writer to actually craft the application -- that is, if you can make room in your budget until the money comes in. 

Disabilities present challenges to both the child and the parent, but a supportive home life leads to happiness and health for everyone involved. Prepare your home for your child’s disability based on their needs. Use government resources and grants to fund things such as health insurance premiums and home renovations. With the right balance and a lot of love, every child -- even those with a disability -- can succeed. 

Helping Your Kids Make Healthy Choices

Today’s children are faced with many hazards that can impact their entire lives. From what they eat to how they treat their bodies, kids of all ages can have opportunities each day to start off on the right foot. Although it may not be easy, parents play the most important role in ensuring that kids make the right choices.

Healthy living begins in the kitchen

One of the most important ways a family can ensure a healthy life is through deciding to eat meals together frequently. Today’s modern lifestyles with work demands on parents and multiple after-school activities can make eating together tricky. This difficulty has created a fast food culture, where families are more likely to eat their meals in a fast food restaurant parking lot than at the dining table. The convenience of fast food is outweighed by the negative effect of excess fat, refined carbs and a general lack of nutrition in these meals.

Schedule time to eat healthy meals together. Your children will learn from your example, so make sure to fill cabinets with healthy snacks instead of chips and cookies. Nuts and fruit are great snack choices.

If schedules make eating together impossible, consider avoiding fast food as a next-best alternative. Send your kids off to their activities with healthy grab-and-go meals made in the home kitchen, such as homemade sandwiches, salads and snacks. A combination of vegetables, fruits and a small amount of meat and cheese provides energy for the day.

Another tactic is to send your kids to school with a hearty and healthy lunch, and treat the midday meal as the most important one of the day. In fact, give your child a job in helping to prepare lunches, and you may find them eating the whole thing. One way to make sure that a lunch is filling and nutritious is to limit sugar and empty carbohydrates and swap in extra vegetables. If your child likes turkey sandwiches, use less bread and increase the lettuce, tomato and turkey. Try to find thinner slices of whole wheat bread or experiment with wraps or whole grain pitas.

Caffeinated and sugary drinks are another area where kids’ diets can be hazardous. Limit these, and avoid energy drinks entirely. Encourage water as the drink of choice for the family.

Exercise the whole family can enjoy

Healthy living also embraces exercise and activity. Make frequent walks a part of your family’s weekly routine, and instead of planning weekend activities around shopping or going for ice cream, enjoy local hikes, bike rides and sports for the entire family. Again, your children are likely to mirror your attitude about exercise, so make sure that you practice what you preach. If you belong to a gym, ask if they have family passes so your kids can try age-appropriate exercises. You can check your area for family-centric exercise locations, such as the YMCA or other centers. Another way to get the whole family involved in a healthy activity is to find local 5k races. These often are held for charitable purposes, and are inexpensive and approachable for even someone who has never run before. The training process is a great way for families to bond, and the race itself will provide memories and inspire future races.

Limiting risk of other bad choices

Just as children will mirror your diet and exercise, their attitudes toward drug and alcohol use will be informed by your approach to these substances. Kids don’t turn to alcohol and drugs solely because they witness their parents drinking, but they do often experiment because of misinformation and because they’re easy to access, so keep any alcohol and prescription drugs out of reach. Have conversations with your children about drinking and doing drugs. If you drink socially, explain why this is acceptable and the importance of responsible alcohol consumption.

Through a healthy attitude toward diet and exercise, and talking to your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, you can help your children make healthy decisions that will carry on into their adulthood.

- Amanda Henderson