12 Tips for Parents of Special Needs Children
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

12 Tips for Parents of Special Needs Children

For parents of special needs children, one of the biggest concerns is feeling alone and of course, worrying about your child. “Special needs” can be defined in a variety of ways. The term can refer to a variety of issues and concerns from an intellectual disability, ADHD, Autism, an executive functioning disorder, or being gifted. Many parents of special needs children find themselves isolated, looking for others who understand the situation. With that in mind, the following 12 tips for parents of special needs children on ways that they can:

With that in mind, the following 12 tips are for parents of special needs children on ways that they can:

1. Find Your Tribe. Many parents fall into the mental trap of thinking they are alone, even though they are not. Parenting a child with special needs isn’t easy. Seek out other parents and find your tribe.  There are FaceBook parent groups, special education groups (SEPTA), different parent groups for different issues (TACA, PANS/PANDAS, ADHD, OCD, NAMI), and so on. Talk, share, laugh, and cry together. Parents of special needs children need to connect with others who understand their worries and journey. Having a special needs child shouldn’t be something you feel you need to hide, and finding the right people to lean on is important for that.

2. Make Lifestyle Changes.  If your life is stressful and emotionally taxing, then it is time for a change. Limiting stressors and triggers may mean fewer activities or social events; it can also mean more or less structure, as well as changes in work schedules or general priorities. It might mean asking for or getting help.  Accepting these changes can help move to a less stressful and more enriched life. Next sort the problems. Which ones will you work on first? Which ones can you accommodate? Which ones can you live with? Realize that change for your child and your family is a process, not a quick fix and that it will evolve over time.

3. Try Neurofeedback.  People’s brainwave functioning and patterns have a lot of effect on how they function cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally. Dysfunctional patterns may be contributing to your child’s struggles, including his/her anxiety, rigidity, learning and cognitive functioning, attention and impulse control problems. Neurofeedback is an effective and powerful way to alter brainwave functioning in order to help the brain self-regulate and reduce a variety of negative symptoms.  At our center in Ridgefield, CT we support special needs children every day and getting their brain to produce healthy rhythms is an essential part of their wellness plan. Find a Board Certified Neurofeedback provider to help you decide if Neurofeedback should be part of your overall treatment plan.

4. Try Biofeedback. Biofeedback helps clients learn to consciously regulate their body. Children with behavioral or attentional issues lack self-regulation skills, which impacts their functioning in many ways but often impacts their stress tolerance. However, they can learn how to self-regulate, which are skills they will need throughout their lifetime with an easy, effective, and safe therapy like biofeedback.

5. Find the Organic Root Causes. Organic root causes come in a variety of forms including foods, genetic issues, infectious diseases, and nutrient deficiencies. The first step for parents of special needs children is to keep a journal of possible triggers. This means that if your child eats a food and twenty minutes later seems out of control, then record that reaction. This allows you to explore different environmental factors so you can make connections between them and your child’s behavior. A naturopath can really help you understand how deficiencies, genetic issues, nutrition, and irritants to the system can contribute to your child’s challenges, as well as prescribe supplements, herbs and homeopathy to help.

 6.  Find a Good Therapist.  When looking for a therapist, you want someone who understands your child’s developmental issues or problems to support you and your child. A good therapist will have a toolkit and expirence with whatever issue you are facing. Play therapy, hypnotherapy, and parenting support are some of the many ways your therapist can help you through the many challenges you are facing. Therapy is a way to get parenting hacks so that you can get the support you need to be a more effective parent and your child and family will be happier.  Remember, we aren't trained to be parents but a good therapist is trained to offer parent coaching and therapy, so they can get to the heart of the issue in a way you can't and have the skills that enable change.

7. Use Behavior Plans. A behavioral plan is a behavioral management tool that can be used at home or in a classroom and serves to teach or shape desired positive behaviors through explicit reinforcement. A good behavior plan lets you reward positive behaviors while also providing consequences for negative ones. Too often parents unknowingly reward unwanted and negative behaviors. For parents of special needs children this is even more important because traditional parenting methods may not work. Educate yourself, ask your therapist, or find a behaviorist to help you decide what, how, and when to use behavior plans. Focus on small changes and allow them to grow and blossom over time. You may not see progress overnight, but when you look back over weeks and months, you will see clear results.

8. Parent Self-Care.  While the parents of special needs children endlessly worry about their kids, everyone’s mind and body need time to rest and recharge. Commit to turning off your worry brain for some time each day. Meditate, eat, and sleep well. Most importantly, develop a mindful attitude and  a mindful parenting style. Staying present in the moment will help you to alleviate future-thinking anxieties and help you to tolerate your distress, which only serves to exacerbate things. When you are present and connected you will have a clearer picture of the behaviors that are hardest for you to manage. Looking at the behaviors at a later time, when you aren’t caught up in the irritation of the moment, is the best time to reflect look back at antecedents or core issues. Finally, when you are present with your child rather than your own anxieties, you can connect with your child in tough moments and begin to unravel root causes of their behaviors. You can learn to be present and not irritated through time and self-care.

9. Watch and Listen. Take the time to connect to your child’s experience and look for potential triggers. When your child’s behavior erupts they are generally struggling in some form and their behavior always gives a clue as to why. What you can do is model the language that can help them adequately express what they are experiencing and express empathy and understanding by quietly speaking their thoughts. Phrases such as, “This is tiring/maddening, I bet you wish you could just quit” , and “Hmm, your hands/face/chest seems really angry/sad/tired right now” can help a child to realize you can understand what they are feeling. In addition, by giving them language to use you also help them learn how to express their struggles. However, be careful not to use “you” statements, such as ”you are angry” since many children find this upsetting, Finally, if a child disagrees with your observation do not argue since this makes them feel disempowered.

10. See the Good Stuff. For parents of special needs children, seeing the best parts of their children can be a struggle. Jot down the special moments or keep a video diary. Write one good thing every day. Take pictures and talk to your child often about the gifts you see in them. We are often so busy supporting their issues or needs that we forget to celebrate their strengths. When they were babies and toddlers, you delighted in the simplest of accomplishments but now that seems harder because of the challenges they present. Our kids are special every day, and we need to celebrate who they are, not just what they do, so that we all can keep a positive mindset.

 11. Cultivate Gratitude and Positive Experiences. When parents of special needs children are in the weeds, they can find it difficult to be grateful for what’s easier in their lives or see positive experiences. We get so caught up in the worry that is hard to see the positive.  With positive parenting, for example, activity reinforces your child’s positive experiences by pointing them out.  “Look Amy, the cat jumped in your lap. She really loves you”.  “Your sister looked really happy when you saved her a seat at the theatre”. Our brain is wired to alert to and remember the negative more readily, so active reinforcement is needed to alter negative thinking. This single task will help you more than you realize. Journal, or reframe your child’s positive experiences, or set a jar in your kitchen and add a small note of gratitude to it each day. Sit back, and watch your perspective change.

12. Practice Positive Language. Parents of special needs children we are always trying to help our kiddos, which means that we are often correcting them. As a result, we sometimes use negative, judgemental language without realizing it. We think we are helping by pointing out what they aren’t doing right, but instead we inadvertently reinforce the less desired behaviors. Try to practice using descriptive language instead that both expresses yourself clearly and may help you find solutions. Special needs children often struggle with learning and understanding what they should be doing, so reinforcing the desired behaviors is the way to go.  Words can be hurtful or helpful. Put a coin in a jar when you make an infraction and commit to sending it to your a charity if that is a motivator.

Instead of “He/she is so hard!”..Try, “My child has extra needs and they are really EXTRA right now!”

“My child is so stubborn”…might be better as, “My child’s brain is inflexible (rigid, stuck) right now.”

 “I’m mad at you/ you make my life so hard/why are you doing this”…might better be “I love you, but this behavior is not expected right now and not acceptable”….and “These behaviors drain my energy. It must be hard when you lose flexibility/focus/control in your brain.”

Raising a child with extra needs is a gift, even though that’s often difficult to keep in mind in the day to day struggles of parenting. It also means you have a lot of hats to wear, so parental self-care is so important.

For further reading check out these resources:

  • The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene
  • How to Talk So Your Child Will Listen by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

To make an appointment with  Dr. Roseann call 203.826.2975 or email [email protected]

Join us for our March 30, 2019 at 10 am FREE parent talk in Ridgefield, CT – ” The Special Needs Parent Survival Guide“.

To make an appointment with Dr. Roseann or one of our therapists to discuss how parent coaching or therapy can benefit you or how one of our clinically effective and natural therapies for ODD, OCD, anxiety, depression, Dyslexia, LD, ADHD, or ASD such as NeurofeedbackBiofeedbackExecutive Functioning coachingparent coachingor behavioral support can help you or your child, or to meet with one of our psychotherapists call 203.826.2975 or email us at [email protected]. Live out of state? We work with children, individuals, and families at our clinic through our intensive therapies 360° Reboot® Program.

Dr. Roseann is a Psychologist and Therapist and our center provides expert-level care for children, adults, and families from all over the US, supporting them with research-based and holistic therapies that are bridged with neuroscience. She is a Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS) and Epidemic Answers, Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Connecticut Counseling Association (CCA), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

©Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2019.

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You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2023

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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