WASHINGTON– Parenting a child with special needs can be especially challenging. The Episcopal Center for Children, a nonprofit treatment center and school for children in grades K-7, offers tips and advice to help parents support a child with special needs at home.

“Parenting a child with special needs is like running a marathon,” said Dodd White, president and CEO of ECC. “You have to remember that you are in this for the long haul. Children with special needs are often told by others that they are worthless. You are their most important cheerleader and advocate. You want to positively support your child as he or she progresses.”

Tip #1 – Understand your child’s diagnoses and know your child’s Individual Education Plan. Review your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and diagnoses. Do you have any new medical or psychological reports that the school should know about? Do you think it meets his or her needs? Are all aspects of the plan being implemented? Talk with school staff to make sure their plans for your child match the goals in the IEP and to ensure they are aware of your child’s current status.

Tip #2 – Communicate with the school staff on a regular basis. At ECC, a social worker calls a parent or guardian every day for every student and updates him or her on their child’s progress for the day. Not every place is like ECC. You may need to be proactive about communicating with the staff at a different school. Ask how you can best support your child’s progress at home, what techniques assist him or her in the classroom, and how you might best support what he or she is learning.

Tip #3 – Frame the school day in terms of progress, not failure. Go through your child’s backpack or schoolbag or folder and ask about the items that come home in it. Talk with your child about his or her day. Ask what their favorite activity today was, or what was special to them. Ask if they did something they are proud of that day. Look for ways to praise your child and support progress.

Tip #4 – Help your child understand that having a disability or emotional challenge does not mean that something is wrong with him or her as a person. Each person is different, but we can all learn. Convincing your child that what he or she is coping with is how to manage their learning challenges, and not fundamental flaws, may be a long process. Understanding and accepting one’s identity of who we are, what we need, and our limitations is essential to a person’s mental health, well-being, and self-esteem.

Tip #5 – Make time to enjoy your child. Being grounded in a positive and healthy family life provides stability that supports a child with special needs. Read to your child. Ask how their day went. Celebrate every step forward. Make memories together for your family. Eat dinner together.

About the Episcopal Center for Children
The Episcopal Center for Children is a private nonprofit, nondenominational day treatment facility and school for emotionally troubled children and their families from the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Accredited by the Joint Commission, the Center offers a day treatment program for children who are 5-13 years old in grades K – 7 and focuses on enabling children to return to the public school and the community, while being able to re-engage with their families and build a positive future for themselves. More information is available at ECCofDC.org.

After an on-site accreditation review last fall, the Center was awarded a gold seal of excellence by the Joint Commission for its compliance with national standards in behavioral health care. The Joint Commission began accrediting the Center annually in 1998. The Center has been fully accredited since 1978. It was first accredited by the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children.

Since its founding in 1894, the Center has served children – first as a convalescent home for sick children, then as an orphanage. Since 1959 the Center has served as a treatment center and school for emotionally troubled children. In 1959 it moved from a partial residential program to an intensive day program.

Media contact: Ami Neiberger-Miller, 703.887.4877, [email protected].