When learning their child has special needs, a parent’s first instinct is often panic—especially when the diagnosis is prenatal, says Dr. Frank McGehee, a pediatrician at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. But McGehee, whose daughter Brigid, 14, has Down syndrome, knows all too well that many of those fears are rooted in common misconceptions. Guidance and love, rather than panic, are the primary tools in parenting a child with special needs.
MISCONCEPTION Parenting and teaching a child with special needs will take over your life, replacing your happiness with difficulties.
FACT Parenting a child with special needs will not seriously change your life any more so than having a typical child. It’s simply that other children eventually grow up and “get off the payroll”
MISCONCEPTION Special-needs children will never reach their full potential.
FACT Children with special needs are always growing. Even though they are developmentally slower than their peers, says McGehee, they are always making progress. There’s no flat line, which would be a sign of something more serious, like a thyroid condition.
MISCONCEPTION No one will be able to care for them if I’m gone.
FACT Children with special needs may not always be able to be self-supporting, but McGehee advises his patients that they can be surprisingly normal. He also guides his patients into guardianship and estate planning.