Six Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Child with Special Needs

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
05/17/16  3:00 PM PST
stress in your child with special needs

Your child with special needs may respond to situations differently than other children. Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, Intellectual Disability and other conditions make it difficult for many children to process information. Everyday tasks like changing a diaper or going to the store can be stressful for both you and your child. Changes to regular routines or exposure to new people, places or foods can provoke anxiety and affect your child’s sense of control. Here are some ways to reduce stress in your child with special needs.

Signs of Stress in Your Child with Special Needs

Any change in usual behavior could signify stress or anxiety in your child. Here are some specific signs to look for:

  • Absolute withdrawal
  • Increased compulsive behavior
  • Need for constant reassurance
  • Refusal to leave the house
  • Outward aggression

Six Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Child with Special Needs

1. Demonstrate on a Doll

If your child with special needs is stressed about a medical procedure, show her how it’s done on her favorite doll or teddy bear. Find a ready-made special needs doll mirroring some of the most common special needs conditions or make your own.

Reduce Stress in Your Child with Special Needs

2. Communicate at Your Child’s Level

Use terms and methods your child is comfortable with. You may need to use communication boards or hand gestures to communicate effectively. Help your child with special needs improve her social skills with specialized training.

3. Minimize the Unknown

Arrange your day so that you and your child have plenty of time to get through each appointment or task. Try to stick to certain routines that are familiar. Research new places beforehand to minimize unpleasant surprises.

4. Boost Your Child’s Confidence

Complement your child when she is coping well with new situations. Make him feel useful and important by giving him tasks you know he can handle.

Reduce Stress in Your Child with Special Needs

5. Track Behavior

You can’t be ready for everything that might happen but you can certainly try! Keeping a journal of your child’s reactions to certain situations may help you feel better prepared for the next event.

6. Take Care of You

Your child will likely pick up on your anxiety even when you try to hide it. Keep your own stress levels low by accepting help from friends and family or regional respite programs. Consider enrolling your child in a special needs summer camp. Talk things through with a trained professional.

Reduce Stress in Your Child with Special Needs

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