This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders, with one of those focusing on changes made from the DSM-IV to the DSM-5.
Parenting a Child with Intellectual Disability by Samantha Jimenez
Children with intellectual disabilities, or ID, can have a wide range of issues including various health problems, social, behavioral, and emotional issues, sleep disturbances, and academic struggles to name a few. Additionally, parents of children with ID may struggle financially because of medical bills and/or struggles balancing employment and care of the child. These problems can result in higher mental health problems for parents of those with ID, which in turn increases stress and pressures in the home and with the child, exacerbating any existing problems. Some strategies and resources for reducing stress in these families will be discussed.
Primarily, parents of children with ID can make sure they are informed about various aspects of their child’s diagnosis, including medical, legal, and educational components. If the child has not been evaluated, this should be the first step because it will help gather the right information as well as open doors to services. Being informed helps protect the parents and the child against fraud and ignorance by others, and aids in gaining effective resources through communicating needs specifically and accurately. Family members can teach others involved in the child’s life about various aspects of the child’s diagnosis and symptoms, making it easier for others to ask questions and give feedback and acceptance. Additionally, being informed aids in an understanding from the parent’s point of view of what the child may be experiencing. This can also help the parent know how to aid the child in being as independent and self-confident as possible.
Finding other parents who are caring for children with intellectual disabilities can be very helpful. Parent to Parent Support is a free program that supports families caring for a child with ID. New parents are connected with experienced parents based on the needs of the new family. The more experienced parents can help by giving new parents information about resources, share tips about family issues and dealing with school systems, as well as being supportive in general.
Maintaining a positive relationship with the child can be helpful for parents as well. Parents can do this by communicating with and spending time with their child. One way parents can interact with their child is to find recreational and social activities in which the family can attend together. Meeting others and sharing experiences with family members can create common memories and friends. Social activities will also help develop healthy social skills in the child. Discussing relationship concerns with a mental health professional can help as well; they can help parents and children work through relationship problems together. Additionally, case managers can help by providing resources about community activities that fit any special needs and modifications the child might require.
Another way parents can help themselves and their child is by asking for and accepting help. There is a broad range of services and supports that can be helpful. Overwhelmingly, people in the helping field genuinely desire to be helpful to families and individuals. Likewise, allowing family members and friends to lend a hand can reduce stress by giving parents time to practice self-care, a vital component to maintaining mental health. People can best take care of others when they take care of themselves. Identifying the strengths of other family members and understanding personal limitations may help in letting others provide support.
Parents of children with ID can also inform themselves on and practice positive parenting techniques. Some of the tips for positive parenting are to be consistent and structured with rules and discipline, discussing expectations and consequences, praising children for what they do (instead of praising unchangeable traits), helping children set their own goals, reading to their children, and encouraging problem solving and community involvement. All of these techniques can be modified to the level and need of the child. For example, modeling these behaviors for children can be a helpful modification if they are unable to do the task themselves. Modeling also helps parents practice healthy social interactions and coping skills. Positive parenting can help children form secure attachment, which builds resilience and positive brain development. It can also help children to learn to use healthy coping skills and self-regulate.
Finally, taking time to enjoy children with ID is important. Although it is true that parents of children with intellectual disabilities experience more stress than those without, many parents of children with ID have stated that their children positively impacted their lives by helping them develop empathy, patience, tolerance, sensitivity, and more positive spousal relations. They also stated that they experienced a larger social network as a positive aspect of having a child with ID.
Parents of children with ID experience a wide range of stressors, but there are strategies and resources to help them decrease stress in themselves and the whole family. Being informed, finding resources and supports, maintaining a positive relationship with the child, asking for and accepting help, practicing positive parenting techniques as well as self-care, and enjoying the positive aspects of parenting a child with ID are just a few strategies that can help. Raising a child with ID can be challenging, but it can be fulfilling as well.