Chicago Suburban Family


7 Effective Habits for Special Needs Children

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By Judy M. Miller

Many parents of special needs children appear to parent with grace, balance, and energy. In addition they also seem remarkably stress-free and organized. How, in the face of all of these challenges and more, do they keep it together? What habits do they embrace that allow them to be highly effective parents for their children?


Habit One: They are proactive and advocate for their children and educate others.

Parents become experts about their children and their needs. They conduct ongoing research; ask questions of therapists, doctors, specialists, and other professionals; and keep an organized binder full of notes and important information. They create and add to their at-home special needs libraries. They are knowledgeable about vernacular, treatments, and services. They are well versed in the state and federal laws that regulate services for their children.

Because of their knowledge parents are effective educators of their child’s faculty and staff. They are powerful advocates for treatment, services, and support-in and outside of school.

Habit Two: They maintain a sense of normalcy within the family.

Effective parents realize that although everyone in the family is affected by their child’s disorder, they are not defined by it. Parents work to ensure that siblings have childhoods and do not take on adult responsibilities. They encourage siblings to spend time with their friends.

Parents are proactive about training other family members, friends and sitters about how to care for their child so that they can have time for themselves-individually and as a couple, perhaps going out on weekly dates. They also spend time in the company of other adult friends.

Habit Three: They take care of themselves.

Parents nurture their needs and recognize that doing so is vital for themselves as well as their children. Effective parents address themselves holistically, meaning they take care of their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs.

They eat nutritious, unprocessed food and don’t skip meals. They make sure their bodies are properly hydrated.

They schedule time for regular exercise, by themselves or with friends. They engage in activities that offer creative or intellectual enrichment.

Habit Four: They manage their stress.

Effective parents are intentional about reducing stress in their lives by setting time aside each day to promote calm and centering. They adopt practices such as prayer, deep breathing, and meditation to replenish their inner reserves. Rebecca, a mom of a son who has a diagnosis of autism, says, “When in doubt I choose grace, to forgive people for letting me down or for rejecting my son, for whatever reason.”

When parents lead lives that are stress-free and balanced, all family members, especially children, win. Research, by the Gottman Institute, supports that children fare better emotionally, socially, and academically when parents manage their stress properly.

Habit Five: They make rest a priority.

While any parent can tire in her or his parenting responsibilities, parenting a child with special needs can elevate fatigue to a whole different level. Sometimes parents do

not realize the extent of their exhaustion. I certainly did not. My child’s physical therapist pointed this out to me.

Effective parents realize the importance of getting to bed as early as possible, or taking naps to offset the sleep they lose due to their child’s irregular sleep patterns-up and down throughout the night, late to bed, and early to rise.

Habit Six: They surround themselves with energy givers.

People are either energy zappers or energy givers. Effective parents opt to spend time in the company of people who lift them up, make them feel confident, positive, and happy. They realize energy givers help them to feel energized, inspired and motivated. Parents of special needs children appreciate and need this energy.

Habit Seven: They have a support group.

Parenting a child with special needs can be lonely. However, there is no need to be alone in the journey. Effective parents are part of or have created a group of parents whose parenting journeys are similar to theirs. Christy, a single mother of a child with mental health issues shares, “I’ve found that meeting and sharing with people who have raised children with similar issues helps me. They understand what I deal with without me having to explain it. Their support helps me to be calm when I’m with my child.”


Elmhurst Learning and Success Academy (ELSA)
The Elmhurst Learning and Success Academy (ELSA) is a four-year program that offers a college-like experience for young adults with developmental disabilities.  Located on Elmhurst College’s campus, this certificate program is for students ages 18 to 28 who have earned a high school diploma or certificate of completion. Students will work directly with faculty and staff to build their job skills and learn to live as independent adults. ELSA students can join college clubs and play intramural sports, and they can live on campus as well. To learn more, visit or call (630)617-3752.

The South East Association for Special Parks And Recreation (SEASPAR) provides dynamic recreation programs and quality services for people with disabilities served by the park districts of Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, La Grange, La Grange Park, Lemont, Lisle, Westmont, and Woodridge, and the villages of Brookfield, Indian Head Park, and Western Springs. Visit or call 630.960.7600 for more information about our year-round programming for all ages and all abilities!

Acacia Academy
Acacia Academy is a private therapeutic day school ages 6 – 22 for those with learning disabilities, emotional concerns, autism and intellectually challenged students who benefit from a personalized program designed to meet individual needs. Natural habitat and three-acre school Nature Center located on campus provides students with a unique outdoor experience and summer program. AdvancED accredited and approved by the Illinois State Board of Education for out-of-district placement. Transition programs and vocational services are available for ages 17-22. Kathryn Fouks, principal. 6425 Willow Springs Road, LaGrange, IL 60525. (708) 579-9040.

Kiddie Academy
At Kiddie Academy we believe the best learning happens during play. From family style dining to character education and STEM, parents can rest assured that our proprietary Life Essentials® curriculum gives your child a full day of learning and fun. In addition, Kiddie Academy sets the standards for safety, education and trust because we understand children need to thrive in an environment that’s as clean, safe and nurturing as home. Call to schedule your tour today!

Shriners Hospitals
At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, our mission is simple: deliver world-class care to children who need it most — regardless of their ability to pay. For over 90 years, thousands of families with children affected by orthopaedic conditions, cleft lip and palate, spinal cord injury, and rehabilitation needs have come through our doors to find the very best in pediatric specialty care. Learn more about us at  or call 773.385.KIDS (5437) for an appointment.


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