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What to Know About Parent Empowerment for Children With Disabilities

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 18, 2022

A growing number of children are diagnosed with mental, learning, and physical disabilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7.2 million public school students aged 3 to 21 received special education services during the 2020-2021 academic year. Empowering parenting methods can help families effectively advocate and care for children with disabilities in the classroom, at the doctor’s office, and in other settings. 

Empowering parents takes time and effort, but this process provides many benefits for children with disabilities, their families, health care providers, and educators. Read on for practical tips about how to empower parents of children with disabilities.

What Is Parental Empowerment? 

Parental empowerment is an approach that helps parents and other caregivers develop the confidence and skills they need to care for children with disabilities. Empowered parents have a deep understanding of their children’s health conditions or disabilities. They can use this knowledge to advocate for their children’s needs, collaborate with health care providers and teachers, and make difficult decisions.

Empowering parents of children with disabilities is a key part of family-centered theory. This approach recognizes and responds to the needs of the entire family unit, not just the individual child. Family-centered services have several central goals, including. 

  • Building family-to-family support networks
  • Fostering collaboration among educators, health care professionals, parents, and other members of children’s care teams 
  • Giving parents a sense of control over their roles as caregivers, decision-makers, and facilitators of their children’s development 
  • Helping parents better understand their children’s capabilities 
  • Inviting parents to learn alongside their children
  • Sharing resources to help parents support children with disabilities

Parent empowerment acknowledges and promotes parents’ vital role in helping children with disabilities thrive in the classroom and other environments.

What Law Supports Parental Empowerment? 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports parental rights in education. This law allows American children with disabilities to receive free public education. Eligible children can receive special education courses and other services to help them succeed academically and socially. 

IDEA recognizes the importance of parental participation and empowerment for schoolchildren with disabilities. The law requires schools to treat parents as equal partners who collaborate with staff to choose what services their children receive. 

Methods that IDEA uses to promote parental empowerment include: 

  • Allowing parents to reverse their decision to place children in special education courses at any time 
  • Creating Parent Training and Information Centers that educate parents about the IDEA law and resources to get support for children with disabilities 
  • Enabling parents to view children’s educational records at any time 
  • Having schools obtain written consent from a parent before assessing a child for special education services 
  • Including parents as members of children’s Individual Education Program team 
  • Mandating that schools give parents a Notice of Parents’ Rights annually 
  • Requiring schools to give parents prior written notice before taking action to help a child with a disability

IDEA empowers parents of children with disabilities by requiring public schools to closely involve families in special education evaluations and services.

What Are Strategies for Empowering Parents of Children With Disabilities? 

Educators, health care providers, and other professionals who work closely with disabled children can use numerous strategies to empower parents. Examples of tactics for empowering families include: 

  • Information sharing. Education plays a vital role in parental empowerment. Health care providers, teachers, and other support staff should ensure that parents have access to information about their children’s disabilities and needs. 
  • Inquiring about home activities. Doctors and educators can ask parents to share activities and strategies they use to care for their children at home. This method acknowledges parents’ expertise and allows families and staff to work together to ensure consistency for disabled children.
  • Open communication. Education and health care professionals should communicate regularly and honestly with parents. For example, a special education teacher can use videoconferencing technology to update parents about their child’s academic performance. Close communication can help parents and professionals develop shared goals and adjust interventions as necessary. 
  • Respecting parents’ desires for their children. Sometimes, parents and professionals disagree about the best approaches to caring for children with disabilities. Professionals should honor family decisions and work to support parents whenever possible.
  • Support networks. Many parents of disabled children feel anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed when caring for their children. Encouraging parents to ask family members for help and develop support networks with other parents of disabled children can alleviate these negative emotions. 

These empowering techniques can help parents of disabled children feel more capable, informed, and involved.

What Are the Benefits of Parental Empowerment for Children with Disabilities? 

Parental empowerment provides numerous advantages for children with disabilities, families, and staff members, such as: 

  • Better outcomes for children with disabilities
  • Fostering smooth communication among all caregivers and professionals 
  • Forming meaningful relationships among families, educators, and medical staff 
  • Giving parents the confidence to advocate for their families
  • Helping parents develop reliable support networks 
  • Improving the well-being of families with disabled children 
  • Reducing stress for parents of disabled children 

Empowering parents can improve the lives of families and help care teams meet the needs of disabled children. Research shows that parental empowerment increases over time, so families may not experience all benefits immediately.

What Resources Can Help Empower Families of Children With Disabilities?

Parents who want to empower themselves to advocate and care for disabled children can take advantage of many resources, including: 

  • Division of Early Childhood Recommended Practices: These guidelines teach parents and professionals efficient strategies for working with young children with disabilities. The practices cover eight domains: assessment, collaboration, environment, family, interaction, instruction, leadership, and transition. 
  • Federation for Children With Special Needs: This organization assists and educates parents of children with disabilities. It offers community engagement, one-on-one support, training, and other services designed to empower parents. 
  • Parent Training and Information Centers: IDEA operates training centers in every state. Parents can visit these centers to learn about early intervention services, parental rights in education, and transitional services. 

Caring for a child with disabilities can be difficult, but these parental empowerment strategies and resources can help parents feel capable and in control. Everyone benefits when parents have the tools they need to advocate and care for their disabled children.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 
Benefits.gov: "Special Education - National Activities - Parent Information Centers."
Disability & Society: "Power is knowledge: empowering parents of children with cerebral visual impairment."
Division for Early Childhood: "DEC Recommended Practices."
EACD Education: "What is parent empowerment?"
Federation for Children With Special Needs: "How Can We Help You?"
Frontiers in Pediatrics: "Family-Centered Care Coordination in an Interdisciplinary Neurodevelopmental Evaluation Clinic: Outcomes From Care Coordinator and Caregiver Reports."
IDEA: "About IDEA."
Mobility International USA: "Parent Empowerment."
National Center for Education Statistics: "Students with Disabilities."
Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy: "‘It’s important that we learn too’: Empowering parents to facilitate participation in physical activity for children and youth with disabilities."
Virtual Lab School: "Working With Families of Children With Special Needs."

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