The top New Year’s resolutions typically include efforts to exercise more, lose weight and save money, among other individualized goals. If you’re a parent of a child with disabilities, New Year’s may also be a good time to check in on family-centered goals and/or set resolutions for your family with special needs.
Here are Resolutions for Families with Special Needs
Grade your child’s IEP and/or 504.
Students with special needs often have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or 504 plan to receive appropriate accommodations at school. Now that the school year is about midway, it’s time to grade your child’s plans. Is the previously-established plan meeting the needs of your child, or does the IEP/504 need to be tweaked? Aside from accessibility- and academic-specific accommodations, does the plan include safety protocols should an emergency, like an active shooter, occur during school hours?
Read a book together that promotes disability inclusion.
With approximately 1-in-4 Americans living with a disability, your child with special needs undoubtedly has classmates with disabilities too. But, especially during youth, understanding the value of inclusion and diversity doesn’t always come naturally without guidance. Fortunately, tons of books that positively promote disability pride exist! Pick up some titles that include messages about inclusion, diversity and individuality, such as Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask about Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw and Matt Carr; Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky, Patrick Downes and Scott Magoon; I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes and Activists from Past and Present by Cerrie Burnell and Lauren Mark Baldo; and You Are Enough by Margaret O’Hair, among other books. If you need recommendations, just ask the school librarian or a public library liaison.
Explore disability-related policies.
All parents need to advocate for their children at some point, but parents of children with disabilities likely have to advocate a bit more. Families with special needs seem to possess superpowers when it comes to change-making, right? Beyond your own life bubble, there is an opportunity to support your child’s disability community even further. One way to do so is to learn legislative policies within your specific state and engage in relevant advocacy efforts. The National Disability Rights Network may be a good place to start; or connect with local nonprofits spearheading volunteer advocacy efforts. So many disability and/or health nonprofit organizations lobby Congress to advance funding, policies, research and more.
Organize your financial life.
People with disabilities encounter a wide range of added expenses, like medical visits/tests, medications, special insurance, etc. These expenses can weigh heavily on household finances and increase the risk of poverty, according to the National Disability Institute. Is it time to update financial needs for your family, such as disability insurance, long-term planning and other monetary considerations?
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut of the same activities, especially if routines are preferred by your child with autism or other special needs. Yet sometimes a new activity helps a family grow and develop together. For example, find a CPR training session, explore the Braille Institute’s online courses, connect with an ASL chat group, enroll in disability-friendly job training classes, find a disability-specific support group and so on.
People with disabilities are actually the largest minority group in America and, thus, an identity that will likely affect all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps that’s why, according to Dictionary.com, interest in ‘allyship’ in support of the disability community and other marginalized groups has risen. In fact, in 2021, Dictionary.com proclaimed ‘allyship’ to be the word of the year. Allyship is defined as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.” So while progress is underway, the disability community needs more allies! You can help by sharing your disability-related knowledge with someone outside of the disability community.
Make time for self-care.
Parents in general, and especially caregiving parents, are so accustomed to caring for their loved ones that, unfortunately, they let self-care slip away. It’s important to remember that prioritizing one’s self isn’t selfish; rather it’s essential. Sure, that’s much easier said than done but all caregivers need proper nutrition, physical activity, time for themselves and much more. Try not to let guilt impede your need for self-care and, when necessary, ask for support.
Exercise more together.
Listen, there’s a reason why exercise always seems to make the cut when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, and physical activity is especially important for people within the disability community. Statistics show that people with disabilities are less likely to be of healthy weight and more likely to be obese than people without disabilities. Data states that:
- Children and adults with mobility limitations and intellectual or learning disabilities are at the greatest risk for obesity.
- 20% of children 10 through 17 years of age who have special health care needs are obese compared with 15% of children of the same ages without special health care needs.
- The annual healthcare costs of obesity that are related to disability are estimated at approximately $44 billion.
So, yes, try (both individually and as a family with special needs) to move more.