In this article, we look at how a disability affects children’s mental health. We also provide some simple steps that anyone can take to make life a bit better for these children and yourself as a parent. We had some professional input from the most prominent online psychologist service in Norway, onlinepsykologene.no, to give the right information in trying times.
Children with disabilities
A child with a disability is often perceived as being an “other” by “normal” children. This reality will usually make it more difficult for the disabled child to be included in friendships and play and will make it more likely that the child feels a sense of being isolated from the rest of the world. These struggles with being included can also have a big impact on children’s mental health.
Luckily, this doesn’t have to continue to be the reality that disabled children experience. By being in positive and uplifting surroundings where people are happy to give their care and help, children with impairments can grow and flourish. It’s not just disabled children who need to have friendships and togetherness; this is something every child needs in order to have good mental health. But it’s safe to say that these factors are extra critical for disabled children.
Certain studies have shown that children with physical or mental impairments are more likely to experience poor mental health than children who don’t have these impairments. These findings are also true for children and teenagers who have a loss of hearing, epilepsy, or some other form of ailment, which doesn’t go away completely.
Mental health factors for children
The factors that will most strongly decide what kind of mental health the child will experience include the degree of the disability and the care and opinions other people communicate. If family, friends, and acquaintances take the initiative to bring disabled children into their activities and do their best to give them some love and a sense of belonging, they help them become happier. Often, it’s the little things that count, such as asking if they want to come and play, or if they can’t play, to ask if they’re going to go for a walk, or just sit and talk. But when “normal” people don’t take such steps, disabled children are more likely to experience loneliness and isolation. And who wouldn’t, if they were to be on their own all day, wanting to join others in their fun and play, but not daring to because they don’t know if they will be accepted?
Many impaired children will experience trouble with getting and keeping good friends, since the disability may make it impossible for them to join the activities that other children are attending. Another sad reality is that disabled children are bullied more than other children, precisely because they have an impairment. For people who have never been bullied, it’s hard to imagine the kind of anguish, helplessness, and frustration the victim feels through years of being bullied for something they can’t do anything about.
Normal day activities for disabled children
Another factor that makes it harder for disabled children to join everyday activities such as making food, playing football, or only having conversations, is that they might not interpret the social clues that other people use to collaborate. An example might be that they just run with the ball all by themselves, not because of their ego, but because they don’t “get” that they should pass the ball to their teammates to play better. For some children, it can also be hard to ask their classmates and other children to do something fun together. Because of this, disabled children may come to lose the skill of making friends or joining games that their classmates like to spend their time on.
When it gets tough for parents
Inform your child(ren) when you’re concerned
Remember that your children understand more than you think, explain when you’re feeling concerned, and you’ve noticed that things aren’t’ as they usually are. This way children ca,n open up when you are showing genuine feelings.
Empathize and understand
Empathy can be a confusing feeling for children, but for the parents, it’s essential to acknowledge what you and your parent may be feeling. Understand what could be done differently and give helping advice, but empathy usefully is more than this and should revolve around you listening to your children or spouse.
When we put together all these factors of how disabilities can affect children’s mental health, it’s easy to see that they can experience feelings like shyness and loneliness, and disorders like depression. In order to make life a little bit better for disabled children, it’s the responsibility of families, peers, and everyday people to learn more about how they can help these children meet their needs. A big part of this will be to make surroundings that are caring, patient, and helpful so that these children get just as good a chance at enjoying life as all the other “normal” children.