Caring for a disabled child can make your daily parenting duties such as feeding, toilet training and getting your child to sleep, more challenging.
Feeding and eating
Your child may have problems with feeding and eating for many different reasons:
- They may have physical problems that make it hard to swallow, chew and digesting food.
- They can be limited in their movements which can make it hard to sit up and eat or drink.
It might take longer for your child to be able to feed themselves, but development of these skills can help them in other ways e.g. with co-ordination.
Your health visitor can advice you on many aspects of feeding and weaning your baby. As your child grows, you might be able to get a referral from your GP or health visitor for help.
This could include:
- a speech and language therapist – to help with physical issues like chewing and swallowing
- an occupational therapist – to advise you about aids that might help your child, such as special plates, bowls, cups, adapted cutlery or non-slip mats
- a physiotherapist therapist – to advise you on getting your child into the right physical position to eat
- a dietitian – to help you if you’re concerned that your child isn’t eating enough
Disabled children can have sleep problems for a range of physical reasons, such as muscle spasms or breathing difficulties, depending on their particular health problem.
Quick tips to help sleep and bedtime:
- Establish a bedtime routine
- Avoid TV and computers an hour before bed as they stimulate the brain.
- Identify patterns in your child’s sleep e.g. What time they wake in the night and what triggers a bad sleep can help you understand their sleep better.
If your own sleep is constantly interrupted, you can ask for a carer’s assessment from social services. They may be able to provide short breaks from caring so you can get some well deserved undisturbed sleep.
All children are different, but most show signs of being ready to learn to use the toilet at around 2 or 3 years old.
Some disabled children may not be ready until they’re older, or they may take longer to learn.
This could be because of learning disabilities or physical challenges, such as impaired mobility, movement skills or muscle tone.
Some children may never learn to use the toilet on their own. Some health conditions may mean that a permanent colostomy or ileostomy is needed.
If your child’s health condition affects their ability to control their bladder or bowel, their doctor may be able to refer you to a continence specialist.
An occupational therapist can advise you about special potties or toilet seats if your child needs help with sitting, or about any bathroom adaptations that might be useful.
A physiotherapist can advise about issues such as moving and handling your child, or finding the best position for your child to be able to use the toilet.
Challenging behaviour can be common in children with learning or sensory disabilities.
This is because communication problems can make it difficult for them to express their needs, likes and dislikes.
Challenging behaviour can take many forms, from aggression to withdrawal.
Tips for carers:
- Seek support- organisations listed below have schemes that connect carers with others in a similar situation.
- Get respite care- you can take a break then. Wirral Council can provide respite care after a carer’s assessment.
- Keep in touch with friends and family- they can provide practical and emotional support.
Communicating with your child
Some physical conditions and learning disabilities can mean that your child has little or no clear speech, or their speech may be slow to develop.
You may worry about how well they’ll communicate with you and other people as they grow up.
A wide range of equipment and techniques can support or replace speech, including signing (perhaps using a system like Makaton), symbols, word boards and electronic voice output communication aids (VOCAs).
A speech and language therapist can assess your child and help you decide the most appropriate aids.
Each child develops differently and will develop at their own pace.
This article was adapted from How to care for a disabled child – NHS (www.nhs.uk)