This eight-session group program offers insights and guidance for any parent facing the unfamiliar challenges of raising a child with special needs—physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional.
The program focuses on:
- Encouraging parents to explore their own very intense emotional responses to raising a child with special needs.
- Helping parents identify their lost dreams, express feelings that accompany loss, and, at the same time, deeply love the child now in their lives.
- Helping parents experience the gifts that their child offers.
- Encouraging parents to practice self-care and appreciate all that they do for their child.
- Strengthening both the parent-child connection and the family as a whole.
- Improving family communication and developing skills to help children reach optimal potential.
The Raising Special Kids program is written to address directly the responsibilities and expectations faced by parents raising children with special needs, whether these needs are physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral. Many excellent resources are available to parents raising children with special needs. Many effective parenting classes are offered in communities. But because we know firsthand the intense feelings that accompany parenting a special child, we are convinced that a program for parents of children with special needs must begin by focusing parents on the emotional experience of raising their child. This program applies what we know about parenting in general to the special circumstances faced by parents raising children with special needs.
Frequently, families raising a child with special needs feel isolated from other families, disconnected from each other, and overwhelmed by their experiences without knowing how to understand what is happening or having the skills to manage what is occurring.
Raising Special Kids is designed to assist families by connecting them with other families in the community, by encouraging them to spend time together as a family, by providing perspectives on their emotional experience that can lead to acceptance and empowerment, and by helping them understand the goals of healthy, conscious parenting.
This program is based on principles of parenting expressed in most current parenting materials. These principles are summarized as follows:
- A problem or success for a family member affects everyone in the family.
- Adults have a responsibility to attend to their own needs; children should not be expected to meet the needs of adults. (Remember the directive from airline attendants: “In case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first, then assist your child.”)
- The parental role often evokes unresolved issues from adults’ own childhood, and these issues may interfere with the appropriate application of parenting skills.
- Parents have at least two primary functions: One is to provide a nurturing environment; the other is to promote growth of the individual child toward autonomy.
- Children who take responsibility for themselves are children who have been allowed to make mistakes and learn from the consequences without criticism.
- Children learn from what parents do more than from what they say. Changing a child’s behavior requires that parents become more conscious of and alter their own behaviors.
- Children cannot progress in their emotional growth any faster than their parents do.
- A child communicates through behavior that expresses his or her feelings. If a parent desires a change in a child’s behavior, the parent must learn to validate the feelings motivating the behavior of the child.
- Acceptance, approval, respect, and encouragement are more powerful motivators for change in children than disapproval, punishment, and control.
The goal of this program is to assist parents in becoming conscious parents by applying these principles in their own families. In the process of using these principles, parents will develop the following skills:
- Recognizing personal history and its impact on the role of a parent who is identifying and expressing personal feelings
- Observing and establishing boundaries that distinguish parent from child
- Processing loss and tolerating pain
- Recognizing unfulfilled dreams and expectations for oneself and one’s child
- Identifying developmental needs of the child that can be met within the limits of the child’s abilities
- Developing self-soothing behaviors, such as taking time for oneself and adult relationships, sharing with others to foster support, and discovering a sense of humor
- Trusting other people and other systems
While all of these skills are helpful in any parenting situation, they are essential for parents raising children with special needs. In this program, we explore issues common to the experience of parents raising children with a variety of special needs. Our purpose is to provide information that may be applied to meet the needs of a range of individual circumstances, but our main interest is in helping parents discover what is similar about their parenting experience, not in identifying what is different.
“The authors provide an overview and purpose of the group utilizing the metaphor of a traveler who has planned and dreamed of a trip to Italy and who unexpectedly lands in Holland. . . . In the Facilitatorâ€™s Manual, the authors provide an excellent overview of the group process, program methods, facilitatorsâ€™ roles, organization of parent and concurrent child groups, use of art and supplemental activities, and interactive family activities. . . . The Parent Guidebook provides a brief overview of the purpose of the group, written homework, family activities, and supplemental resources for each group session. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on parents engaging in self-reflection and family activities between group sessions and utilizing group time to discuss what was discovered in that process.”
—Robert H. Ayasse, Social Work with Groups
“Raising Special Kids is not your typical parenting class or parenting support group. It is an educational program, based on helping parents understand the dynamics of raising a child with emotional, behavioral, social, or developmental challenges. I recommend this program for counselors to use with parents of all special-needs students â€” not just those initially identified.”
—Linda Kopec, NCSCA News, North Carolina School Counselor Association