Adding to Your Family When You Have a Child With Special Needs
● By Hood Magazine
Making the decision to add another child to your family is already a difficult decision. It’s even more difficult when one of the kids you already have has a disability. Here are some important questions to ask yourself when considering adding to your family:
- What is your older child’s prognosis? You might not always know, but ask your therapists and physicians what you can expect in the coming years. If your child may end up needing more care in the future, consider what that will mean for you and the rest of your family.
- Does your child have equipment now to help her sit, walk, stand, breath, etc.? Will larger equipment be necessary as your child grows? Finding a place for all this equipment can get complicated when another child (and all of his gear) needs to fit in as well.
- Who takes your child to therapy and medical appointments now? If your child is going to need to go to regular appointments throughout her life, do you have the support available to make those appointments as well as the activities of another child?
- Do you have the support from your spouse or partner that you need? This is a time for a frank discussion about who is responsible for what in your family. Sit down with your partner and think of all the ways things will change with an extra child in the house. Who is going to do what?
- Do you have respite care set up for your child with disabilities? Parents always need to take time for themselves. With a new addition and a child with special needs to take care of, this time for you is going to be even more crucial.
- What kind of car do you drive, and what equipment does your older child need to be transported safely? Can that equipment fit in your current car if you also have another car seat?
Once you've made this decision, though, take comfort that many other families have made the same decision and thrived. Here are some tips to make the transition easier for you.
- Get organized before the baby is born; your time will be more restricted and you'll be busier this time. Your organized schedule may be overextended, so you may want to parse down activities.
- Set up your support system well in advance, and get commitments if you can from friends and family for support if they are willing. If you have a family member who can take your child to therapy once a week, that will give you some precious alone time with your new baby.
- Talk with your spouse or partner before the new child arrives about dividing up responsibilities.
- Talk to your boss about any changes to your schedule that might make your life easier (and keep you happy and productive at work).
- Physically getting around with both of your children may be very challenging for a couple of years, especially if your first child has limited mobility. Plan times during the week that you and your partner can run necessary errands (getting groceries, for example) without the children.
Finally, you need to prepare your child for the changes that are coming. Your older child is likely fond his regular routine; begin to integrate changes into his daily schedule before the baby comes. This way your older child can become accustomed to the daily changes in his schedule that a newborn baby will inevitably bring.
If your child is able to understand, try to emphasize the important role your older child will play in helping out with the new baby before the baby comes. Think of ways – however small - that your child can help you once the baby is born, so she is a part of the baby's care. Your child might get a diaper or a burp cloth when you need it or help pick out the baby's clothes for the day. If your child is lower functioning, she might just smile at the baby, or hold her hand.
Whether or not they can communicate it, your older child may experience a range of emotions when the baby arrives, from excitement to jealousy, and even resentment. Children with disabilities may not be able to verbalize their feelings, and their behaviors may regress after the new child is born. They might suck their thumb, drink from a bottle, and communicate using baby talk in an effort to get your attention. They may also express their feelings by testing your patience, misbehaving, throwing tantrums, or refusing to eat. These problems are usually short-lived, and a little preparation can help an older child adjust to the idea of welcoming a new sibling.