by Ashley Taylorashley@disabledparents.org
Disabled parenthood is more common than you might think. According to Through the Looking Glass, there are 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the U.S. who are raising children under the age of 18. But when you have a disability and are preparing to welcome your first child, it can feel like a lonely journey.
The internet and local communities are full of parenting resources. Unfortunately, most of these resources tailor their advice to non-disabled parents raising non-disabled children. As a result, they fail to address the physical, economic, and other barriers faced by parents with disabilities, leaving these parents to navigate the world of new parenthood alone.
To help close the gap, we’ve put together this guide that details how people with disabilities can prepare their homes and lives to welcome their first child.
Parents with Physical Disabilities
As a parent with a physical disability, your top priority is ensuring your home is optimized for safety. Caring for an infant will amplify any difficulties you currently face in your home, so it’s important to address home modifications before your child arrives.
You also need to find baby gear that complements your physical abilities. While some parents need equipment that’s specially adapted to their disability, like the adaptive products discussed at TransferMaster, others can find non-adaptive equipment that works for them. For example, sling wraps allow parents who use mobility devices to easily carry their child, while swivel-base car seats make it easier to get little ones in and out of the car. Consulting online reviews can help you identify the best baby products on the market, including which products are recommended by parents with physical limitations. Once you have a short list, visit stores to test products before you buy.
Even with adaptive (or adaptable) baby gear, mastering the daily tasks of childcare can be challenging. Many parents with physical disabilities benefit from working with an occupational therapist who can help them identify obstacles and solutions. Made for Movement explains how occupational therapy works and why it’s a good idea for people with disabilities.
Parents with Intellectual Disabilities
Parenting with an intellectual disability presents its own set of challenges. Namely, you may find it harder to learn the parenting skills and navigate the administrative aspects of parenthood, like budgeting and health care.
Parents with intellectual disabilities should take advantage of parenting classes before their child is born. Parenting classes cover a wide range of topics, from the stages of child development to breastfeeding and potty training. Ideally, parenting classes should be ongoing so parents receive education through each phase of their child’s development. Parents with intellectual disabilities are completely capable of learning parenting skills, but they often need more practice and support than non-disabled parents.
Parents should also seek support with money management, health care coordination, and other skills they need to be an effective parent. A case manager is a valuable tool for helping parents access these resources within their community. A case manager can also help expecting parents apply for benefits for their child, such as food and nutrition assistance and health care coverage.
Expecting your first child is such an exciting time. It can be hard to shift your mind from picking out baby names and planning the nursery to asking the harder questions, like how you’ll ensure a safe and accessible home or manage your child’s doctor appointments despite challenges with executive function. But by thinking about these important questions now and finding the support, tools, and resources you need, you can be the best parent possible to your new bundle of joy.
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