PARENTS BELIEFS AND PERCEPTIONS
Studies show that a parent's perception of their child with special needs impacts the child’s social-emotional and cognitive development. There are many stressors for new parents, and even more so, if your baby was born prematurely or with a chronic condition.
As an early intervention specialist, I know that the parent is integral to a child’s progress. I’ve worked with parents who believe in treating a child with special needs with kid gloves, and I’ve also worked with parents who believe in tough love and who create opportunities for challenges in motor, speech, and learning throughout the day. It’s not surprising that a child progresses faster if a parent believes they are can handle challenges that are presented to them. Now, there’s finally a study that proves what I’ve seen for the last 25 years.
A very interesting study out of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) proved that a caretakers’ (this study examined mother’s only but I will go out on a limb and say that this can be generalized to all caretakers) perception often infants’ vulnerability impact the toys a parent choose for them, how often a parent interacts with their baby, and how often a baby is challenged. As a result, a child may show lower cognitive, motor, and social-emotional skills later on.
It’s traumatic for a parent to see their baby in a NICU and hear all about the challenges that they may face in the future. The study examines how maternal perception of their baby or themselves impacts a child’s development. Results show that parents who perceive their babies as being fragile, or sick touch their baby less, change their position less frequently, and play with them differently compared to other children their age fewer a result, children have less opportunities to play, explore and interact with their environment. In addition, babies who have parents who have less confidence, perceive themselves to be less competent to care for a child, and are more anxious have shown lower scores in areas such as movement, social-emotional development, and learning.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but early intervention specialists educate parents about their child’s condition. With this knowledge, parents can better recognize a child’s abilities and potential and continue to create opportunities for movement, play and exploration throughout their day. The more a baby experiences, the more they’ll feel and process. Every experience is a learning opportunity from which to build on.
Every child will face numerous challenges, some more than others. As a parent of a child with special needs, the drive to help them be comfortable and happy may compromise their journey towards using trial and error, motor processing, being independent, and taking pride in one’s accomplishments. Believing in your child and challenging them may be the best thing you’ve ever done for them!
Dr. Sharon Pediatric Physiotherapist