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Facing the challenges of raising children with special needs

If you are a parent with a special needs child, it is critical to take care of yourself. You are facing a significant challenge.

Although the number of children aged 3-21 receiving specialized care under the Individuals with Disabilities Act has slightly decreased over the past number of years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, thousands of children still require services for disabilities. And for every child requiring these services, there is a parent who also can benefit from some much-needed support.

In addition to the school planning, financial planning and other practical things you need to do to take care of your child, here are some things you can do just for you:

Acknowledge the challenge. All parents want to be loving providers and a caring influence on their children's lives. For some parents of children with special needs, this translates into a feeling that they should never feel stressed or disappointed by the challenges they are facing. However, accepting and acknowledging these challenges is critical to getting the help you need to succeed in the long run.

Seek out help. This can involve financial help in the form of governmental and school aid as well as personal and emotional help. Many parents seek the aid of in-home caregivers as well as understanding family and friends who can help shoulder some of the burden. It may also be helpful to seek legal support in the event that a child's educational interests are not being protected.

Take time to take care of yourself. Some parents of children with special needs need to be reminded: It is OK, and even necessary, for you to take some time to take care of yourself. Regular exercise, involvement in a church group or support group, engagement in simple hobbies of interest, getting coffee with a friend and other similar activities are all helpful.

Focus on the positive. Especially when things are getting difficult, take a minute to remember those unique characteristics that you love so much about your child. Focusing on these positives can really energize you to provide more consistent love and care.

Do not give up. Although the challenges can feel overwhelming at times, just keep doing your best. And remember that there are resources, legal and otherwise, available to help you make sure your child's rights are being protected.

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