Raising a child with special needs can be very overwhelming on the entire family structure, affecting parents, siblings, and extended family members. Considering the enormous emotional, social, and financial ramifications of raising a child or young adult with a disability in Nigeria, parents and families involved deserve to be treated with empathy and respect. Families raising children with disabilities go through different psycho-social problems including depression, anxiety and anger. Every parent with a special child has to become more educated and empowered; has to learn how to love unconditionally and redefine perfection; understand fully the privileged and great responsibility of being a child’s parents.
Parents of children with special needs must view their children as children first, not as disabilities. First of all, the parents have to come to terms with feelings such as denial, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, reduced self-esteem, depression, anger and hope and have to navigate through all of these feelings. Only the well-adjusted parents can prepare the child to live and function in society fully.
When a child is born, family dynamics changes. If that child has a disability, the changes can be quite overwhelming. Needless to say, raising a child with special needs to achieve his full potential anywhere in the world is hard work, in a country like Nigeria, it’s very daunting!!! Truth is, there’s no easy way to raise the child with a disability. The parents of the child with disability need to be stronger, very adaptive, optimistic and have a huge sense of humour . Indeed, they have to be ‘special’ for their special child.
In my experience of working with families in a country like Nigeria, I have realized the enormous burden that such families have to shoulder. Getting the right educational and support services can be very depressing. Quite early, parents recognize that they have to raise their child in a very unfriendly society. The child with disability faces discrimination and seclusion in the school and recreational centres. The young adult with special needs after struggling to make it through the thorny educational system finds it very difficult to get employment. Our transportation system and public buildings are put in place with no consideration for the unique needs of people with disabilities.
Raising a child with special needs is like a double- edged sword. On the positive side, it can help increase the family member’s awareness of their inner strength, fostering love, and enhancing family bonding. On the negative side, the emotional and physical demands, financial costs, time and logistics problems associated with raising a child with disability can have deleterious far-reaching effects. In any case, parents and families raising children with special needs require support including counseling and psychological services.
The Children’s Developmental Centre have always partnered with parents and families through fundraising events, seminars and workshops to improve care giving and support. At the moment, the centre is exploring other ways through which she can work with parents and families. Some of the options on the table include helping to form a ‘parents support group’ and a mentoring service to be headed by well-adjusted, mature parents. The mentoring service would help parents and families raising children with special needs to find their way through the many challenges they may face, and ensure that these children are raised under the most loving, stimulating and enabling family environment.
-Martins, C. Duru (Lead Physiotherapist at CDC)