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Military children with special needs

Learning that your child has exceptional needs can be overwhelming at first. Find resources and support to help you along the way.

If you have a child with special needs, the good news is that military families have access to special support and services. When you first learn that your child has exceptional needs, it’s a challenge to sort through: You have to adjust your expectations and lifestyle.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, shocked, and perhaps denial initially. Parents of children with special needs often grieve the loss of their initial hopes and dreams for their child too. Physical reactions to the news—such as crying or lack of appetite—are also common.

What can you learn from parents who have “been there”?

  • Support between spouses is essential, especially early in the process. Support from other family members and friends also can help you adapt.
  • Learning about your child’s disability or medical condition and what it means for his or her future health and abilities is important. Stay positive about your child’s future while also being realistic and accepting of his or her possible limitations.
  • Anticipate some changes to your social life. It’s important to maintain old routines, especially if you have other children. But time with your own friends may initially decrease as you focus on your child’s needs. However, be careful not to isolate yourself.

Be aware of your own coping strategies during this stressful time. Coping effectively with this news will enable you be attentive to your child.

Look for support groups and tap into resources with local and national organizations. Explore your Family-to-Family Health Information Center and get connected to other families and support groups. Enroll in the military’s own Exceptional Family Member Program, which will connect you to a coordinator who can help you figure out what programs and services are available to you.

Many parents of children with special needs feel highly satisfied in their parenting role. With the right support and resources in place, you can feel the same way.

Developing your coping arsenal

Learn coping strategies that can help you either directly tackle the problem or reduce your stress associated with the problem.

It’s a good idea to have a choice of coping strategies to meet the specific needs of each situation you face—some “problem-focused” and some “emotion-focused.” During severe stress, you might find that your old ways of dealing with problems aren’t doing enough to help. For example, your preferred way of coping in the past might have been venting to a friend about something you couldn’t control. But now you may be overlooking direct actions you can take to fix the problem. Or perhaps you’ve always been an action-oriented problem-solver but now, even though it’s unfamiliar to talk with others about what’s bothering you, you might simply need someone to be a good listener. Take stock of your current coping strategies. We offer some suggestions here for how you can expand your arsenal. Consider which ones might be most useful for you personally in various situations. 

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