Celebrating milestones is always a challenge, especially when raising a child with special needs. Milestones are often times more emotional than they should be, and sometimes the emotions can be quite strong. Most parents view each milestone as a direct reflection of their parenting skills. Parenting isn’t easy and being a parent to special needs kids can be even harder. It’s often hard to feel as though you are doing everything in your power to help your child reach his/her full potential, but regardless you’re doing it. Parenting is not something that we presume to be an innate skill and it’s constantly passed down generationally through either positive or negative experiences with our parents.
14% of the world’s population has special or additional needs. The fact is that all children are different and will reach significant milestones in their lives at different times. There is a strong case for disregarding the parenting handbooks, charts and articles that tell you that “your child should have done X by the time they are 5 years old.” All these kinds of statements do is worry parents, and in many ways, make them feel inadequate. When your child has additional needs, there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to milestones. Your child will get there when it is right for them, and this needs to be celebrated.
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Celebrate each day
Potty training is one of the big milestones in a child’s life – but children will get there when they are good and ready. They might only be 18 months old, or they might be 4 years old. When your child has additional needs, it might take a longer time. For instance cerebral palsy potty training techniques are not always relevant as there may be issues with urinary incontinence. There is often a recommendation not to begin toilet training for children with cerebral palsy until they are at least 3 years old. As a parent, the best thing is to follow your own instincts. Celebrate each dry day because your child will get there when the time is right for them.
Change the milestones
Parenting books will tell you that first words is a milestone, or learning the alphabet is a milestone, and that your child should have reached these by a certain time in their life. When your child has additional needs, the parenting books don’t apply. It is a good idea, however, to create your own milestones. You might want to celebrate your child’s first trip to toddler group, or when they made their first friend. You could celebrate their first family meal out, or their first time on the swings at the park. Change the milestones to ones that have meaning for you.
How to celebrate
Keeping a photo calendar is an excellent way of celebrating your child’s milestones. It will remind you of everything that they have achieved over the past year. It will also give your child confidence when they look back at the photos. You could celebrate with your child’s favorite meal or snack. Organize a special day out together, or simply take the afternoon and enjoy a movie and some popcorn together – do something that brings you and your child joy.
The milestones in parenting books don’t apply when your child has additional needs. Instead, celebrate the milestones that have meaning to you, for every child is different.