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How to Prevent Illness in Children with Special Needs

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Shield HealthCare
12/13/16  3:06 PM PST
prevent illness in children with special needs

Children with special needs are particularly vulnerable to illness, especially during the cold winter months. You can help prevent illness in children with special needs and reduce stress on their parents with a little understanding and kindness this season.

prevent illness in children with special needs

With the holiday season upon us, it’s a good time to talk about caring for a child with special needs. My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Scarlette, has a congenital heart defect (CHD), so the common cold is more dangerous to her than it is to a typical child. The cold weather, coupled with throngs of people around her, whether family or strangers, increases her risk for illness. This is true for many kids with special needs.

prevent illness in children with special needs

Due to Scarlette’s weakened immune system, we can’t do playgrounds, even during mild weather, especially if she’s about to have or has just had a surgery or procedure. She is already very small and skinny for her age so I need to constantly make sure she’s warm enough, even at home. Her condition makes her medically frail, so I have to do the best I can to prevent illness, because it could potentially be fatal. This might mean missing out on special events, especially if someone near her is sick, or has been around a sick person within the past 10 days.

As a family, we constantly have to take care of ourselves so that we don’t get sick and bring it home to her. I try to keep her time outside to a minimum, so Scarlette and I are mostly at home. Anytime we have visitors, I disinfect everything after they leave, whether they are sick or not. I also ask them to take their shoes off and leave outside germs at the door.

When we do go out I have a sign to hang from her car seat or diaper bag with a special request:

prevent illness in children with special needs

 Here are more ways to prevent illness in children with special needs this season:

  • Wash your hands for at least 15 seconds with soap and warm water.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Resist the urge to touch or kiss small children, no matter how cute they are!
  • Clean countertops with disinfectant, and wash children’s toys periodically.
  • Cover your face with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid sharing cups or utensils with others.

What should you do if you find yourself around special needs families this season? Be supportive, understanding, and compassionate. Maybe even pull one of the parents aside and ask for suggestions on how you can help. Even if they politely decline, believe me they are grateful for your kind consideration!

More stories from Melanie McGourty:

While Your Baby is in the NICU: Top 5 Helpful Tips

My Baby with Complex Medical Needs: A Mom’s Story

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