about Parenting a Child or Teen with a Disability
Living with a disability can create a multitude of daily challenges – most of which able-bodied folk or parents don’t even consider unless they’re caring for someone who has a disability. Indeed, sometimes the grind of those mundane, everyday challenges can feel overwhelming and even demoralizing.
Because of these factors, it’s common for people with disabilities to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This is particularly true for children and teenagers who, according to researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, are five times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than young people without a disability.
SYMPTOMS OF A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE IN YOUNG PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY
The symptoms of depression and anxiety in children and teens with a disability or chronic health condition will look very similar to symptoms in young people who do not have those same conditions.
The difficulty lies in spotting some of these signs because they may overlap with the physical symptoms of their condition.
Still, it is important to keep a close eye on your child or teen to see if they are expressing any of the following feelings or behaviors:
- Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness
- Refusing to go to appointments or take medications
- Becoming withdrawn and no longer doing activities they once enjoyed
- Getting easily agitated
- Beginning to act out toward teachers or medical professionals
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Children and Teenagers?
Help Them Reframe
Help your child see themselves beyond their health. Help them begin to focus on the things they are good at and the areas of life in which they can succeed. Help them discover new talents, passions, and interests – things that they enjoy not because of the outcome, but because of the process. Remind them that they are a whole person worthy of love and respect and that their disability does not define them.
Help Them Form a Network
Your child will have an easier time with their mental health when they have access to other kids with disabilities. Find peer network groups for kids and teens with disabilities or who have chronic conditions. These may be online groups or in-person groups in your local community. These groups can be mental health processing groups, life skills or social skills development groups, or simply community-based opportunities for your child to hang out with other kids who have similar experiences.
Seek Professional Help
All kids and teens could use someone to talk to, other than their parents. This is especially true for teens and kids with disabilities. Look for a therapist who has experience helping young people suffering from depression as a result of a disability or chronic condition.
If travel poses an issue, you can also look for a therapist who offers online sessions.
Make Sure You as a Parent Have Support, Too
Parenting a child with a disability often can feel highly isolating. You may not know how to meet your kid’s needs or you’re not quite sure how to advocate for them. Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated and lose your cool. It’s important to ensure that you as a parent are taking care of your emotional needs so you can be more attuned to your child and their mental health needs.
This may look like doing individual therapy, couples counseling, family therapy, or joining a support group with parents facing similar difficulties. It also may look like creating opportunities for yourself to step away from your role as a caretaker to enjoy other parts of your life: arrange child care so you can go to dinner or a movie; meet a friend for coffee; go to an exercise class. It’s important to nourish non-parenting arenas of your life so that you can show up for your child as fully as possible.
If you would like to explore treatment options for your child or teen – or for yourself, please contact Prism. We offer telehealth services and accept Medicare and Medicaid because accessibility is one of our primary priorities.