Working as a school-based occupational, physical, or speech therapist involves not only working with students, but their parents as well. The parents of the students you work with are part of the team. Together, therapists, teachers, and parents work towards helping children reach their full potential.
Parents of special needs children need support. After you wrap up the workday with your students, you retreat to your own life. But for parents of special needs children, the work is often 24/7. Depending on the situation, caring for a special needs child can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining. The support from professionals, such as school-based therapists, can make a difference.
Challenges for Parents of Special Needs Children
Regardless of how much parents love their children, parenting can be difficult at times. There may be additional challenges caring for children with special needs. Parents may face issues including juggling various appointments and meeting the demands of caring for their child. Between driving to therapy appointments, attending IEP meetings, and helping children at home, there is often a lot to deal with.
There may also be additional concerns. Some parents may be in denial regarding their child’s disabilities. In other cases, parents may feel helpless or overwhelmed with all they must do. Parents may also wonder if they are doing enough and if their child is getting the therapy they need.
It’s also easy for parents to feel alone and worry about their child being left out or left behind. Moms and dads may feel like outsiders in certain situations and worry about the future for their child. It’s also common for parents to feel guilty and worry about how siblings are affected.
Ways to be Supportive of Parents
School-based therapists can play an important role in supporting parents of special needs children. Consider the following suggestions:
Ask parents how they are doing: When you have the opportunity, spend a few minutes getting to know the parents of the children you are treating. A few kind words or taking a little time to ask how they are doing can make a difference.
Offer suggestions on activities: Parents of a child with special needs may need suggestions on what types of activities to do at home to help their child progress. It’s also helpful to provide information on what goals you’re working on, and how parents can reinforce therapy work at home.
Don’t criticize: You may not agree with everything a parent does or their parenting style, but it’s not your job to criticize. Of course, if you see or know about something that is harmful, you are obligated to speak up.
Provide resources: Be prepared to offer parents resources for community organizations and agencies that may be helpful. Many communities offer services for children with special needs, such as recreational programs or parent support groups.
Offer good news when appropriate: It’s nice for parents to hear something positive about their child or their progress. When the situation calls for it, let parents know how well a student is doing or what goals have been reached. A little praise and good news can boost morale and confidence for both students and parents.