When you’re a parent of a disabled child, it’s wise to take as much help as you can get. There may be more support on offer than you realise, so speak to everyone who might be able to help – your child’s GP and other clinical professionals, your local children’s services, the school, and even friends or family who might know what’s available in the area.
There is still a lot of stigma around parenting support. As a proud parent, you might be tempted to talk yourself into thinking that you don’t need it or shouldn’t accept it. However, when embarking on the most important job you will ever do, you might as well take whatever help is on offer. Seeking support isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a smart, practical choice to help yourself be the best parent you can.
If you’ve been asked to do a parenting course, it can feel like you’re being judged. Many parents worry that their parenting skills are being called into question, or that their child is in trouble – try to remember that parenting programmes are designed to support you in developing the positive skills you already have. They can help you deal with stress and improve your and your partner’s relationship with your child and with each other.
If you can get onto a programme with specific content for your child’s needs, you may find content that’s especially relevant, but a general parenting course can still help. For lots of parents of disabled children, attending parenting programmes helps to create a sense of stability. Having a specific course of action mapped out can give you a feeling of security which can help your child to feel more confident too .
A parenting programme can also have a positive effect on how you feel, alleviating some of the stress in your life, and helping you to feel better about your role as a parent. One study found that parents of disabled children felt more empowered and more empathetic after undertaking a specialist parenting programme .
Disabled children may be more likely to display behaviour that challenges than non-disabled children as they may have no other way of communicating that they are distressed or unhappy. As a parent, you may feel very alone, and worried about the best approach to take. Getting expert help through a parenting class can help alleviate your concerns, and it can be a relief to discover that other parents are facing the same issues.
If you are dealing with behaviour issues, you can also read Contact’s guide Understanding your child’s behaviour.
If you can’t get access to an appropriate parenting programme, or don’t feel comfortable attending a generic one, you can still get support from friends and family – you don’t have to do everything on your own. Caring for a child with additional needs can be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially when tackled alone, so don’t hesitate to call on your social support network.
Parents of disabled children cope better when they work together as a family unit. Having a strong group dynamic can actively strengthen the resilience of each individual family member . This means that you, if you are the main caregiver, can benefit from the combined strength of your partner, your parents, and other family members. Lean on whoever is available. Accept help when it’s offered, ask for it when it’s not, and build a strong unit of support around your family.
Of course, not all families have good relationships. Sometimes, the arrival of a disabled child or the realisation that an older child has a disability, can add to already strained relations. Other family members may go through the same emotions as parents – including anger, grief and denial – and some find it hard to move on and accept the situation.
Even if you feel disappointed by the support you receive from family members, there are practical services which may be available to give you the chance of a real break and to make time for you and your relationship. ‘Short breaks’, which ensure a disabled child or adult is cared for while the main carer has a break, may include:
Most breaks are arranged by social services – the department in your local authority, which is responsible for providing help to meet the needs of disabled children and adults. Usually, social services will need to assess your child and the family’s needs before services can be arranged but getting a break can be a lifeline for some relationships.
For more information about getting a break, see Contact’s guide, Services and support from your local authority – England.
If you can’t access short breaks, you can ask your local Family Information Service about local organisations offering relaxation sessions for carers, as well as activities in the holidays and at weekends for you, your disabled child and any siblings.
 Nelson, P., Kirk, S., Caress, A., & Glenny, A. (2012). Parents' Emotional and Social Experiences of Caring for a Child Through Cleft Treatment. Qualitative Health Research, 22(3), 346-359.
 Burton, R., Zwahr-Castro, S., Magrane, J., Hernandez, C., Farley, L., & Amodei, H. (2018). The Nurturing Program: An Intervention for Parents of Children with Special Needs. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(4), 1137-1149.
 Suzuki, Hiratani, Mizukoshi, Hayashi, & Inagaki. (2018). Family resilience elements alleviate the relationship between maternal psychological distress and the severity of children’s developmental disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 83, 91-98.