Raising a child with special needs can be distressing for the entire family. Sometimes, we need to acknowledge how these family members cope and adapt to an environment centered around caring for a special needs child. Every family is different in their relationship towards special needs, but there are some expected outcomes. These effects can be seen across many dimensions, including financially, psychologically, and socially.
Financially, the effects of raising a special needs child can be wide-reaching and, sometimes, devastating. The most immediate issues come from medical expenses. Some special needs children require professional treatment, which can cost a lot of money for the specialized treatment and the transportation and at-home care involved. Schooling for your child can also cost a lot of money, especially if they need to attend a private school that charges tuition. Treatment and schooling costs can snowball further into impacting other financial decisions as simple as deciding what to eat or what clothes to buy for the family, as there is less money overall to work with. Not all is doom and gloom with these financial impacts. There are organizations to help with fundraising. And from an educational perspective, scholarships are available for private schools.
On a psychological and emotional level, there are many well-observed effects stemming from the inclusion of a special needs child. Typically there is an overall depreciation in the mental health of the family. Siblings of a special needs child score lower on cognitive development and peer activity scores on average (https://lend.wihd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Impact-on-Child-Disability-on-the-Family-Reichman-NE-et-al_.pdf). Families also report higher levels of stress immediately after a special needs child’s diagnosis. Despite all this, in the long term, many families recover from this negative emotion and stress and wind up happier than they were before (https://thekeep.eiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3520&context=theses). Raising a child with special needs can expand the horizons of those around them, revealing aspects of humanity such as empathy and care they may not otherwise see. After learning how to treat the diagnosis, these families see most of their stress wash away.
The social life of families raising special needs children can also be affected by treatment and revolving their life around the child. On the positive side, they meet social and healthcare workers and similar families with whom they can relate and expand their support system and social network. However, the stress that comes with raising a special needs child can cause rifts within the family. There is a higher likelihood of divorce or separation between the parents of a child with special needs. Treatment for the child takes a lot of time and effort, which usually results in fewer work hours for either parent. Some parents must give up on their career path if they can’t adapt to treatment (https://lend.wihd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Impact-on-Child-Disability-on-the-Family-Reichman-NE-et-al_.pdf). Families can also form factions within themselves, as some members may be more caring towards the child while others bear resentment.
There are both positive and negative outcomes when raising a child with special needs. Their families see these effects in every corner of their day-to-day life, from how they spend their money to how they socialize, and even more profound on an emotional level. Just because some of these effects are detrimental doesn’t mean that committing to raising a special needs child should be avoided, as they can provide a more well-rounded experience and teach empathy to all involved.