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Featuring articles from our principal Occupational Therapist, Dr Nicole Grant.  

Planning for Baby: A Guide for Parents with Disabilities

Parents have a long, sleepless road ahead of them. While also filled with joy and love, parenthood is often trial and error—facing one challenge after the other. This is true for many parents, but the reality can be even bumpier for parents with disabilities.

Being a parent with a disability means that you have to not only think of your child’s development, but how your disability might be an opportunity for his or her growth. All parents plan and prepare as best they can, but for parents with a disability, such as mobility issues, low or partial vision or mental health issues, you will likely have to take a few extra steps to get ready for your baby. Not only will there be changes to your house and home, but your entire life as well.

Adapting your home for baby

Your disability in no way means that you can’t conquer parenthood. The world is filled with a plethora of modifications to help you care for your baby, keep your toddler safe and support your teen—all while keeping your disability in mind. These modifications can help you emphasize your abilities:

●      Wheelchairs & Cribs: You can be an important part of your child’s morning and evening routine with a crib designed for wheelchair access. With a gate-like front hinge, you can open the crib from the front, roll right up to the mattress and tuck your baby in. This quick access also makes it easy to hold your baby when she wakes up or cries in the middle of the night.

●      Texture Labels: For parents with a vision impairment, using textured labels can help you safely navigate your baby’s life, from moving around the nursery to bottle feeding. Using labels that guide you by touch will help you make sure you can take care of the day-to-day routine.

●      Strong Support: For people with depression and anxiety, major life changes can make a substantial additional emotional toll. For parents with mental health issues, you may experience more intense or erratic emotions. Making sure you have a strong support network—from family who can come over to help to counsellors who can guide you through therapy—is key to managing your mental health with a young one.

Keeping up with a toddler

The world is an exciting place for a toddler to explore. They are extremely tactile at this age—investigating their environments with touch and taste—which also makes simple household items somewhat dangerous. Here are a couple of ways to childproof your home for a specific disability:

●      Bath time: Everyone is at risk for a slip or fall in a bathroom—that’s just the nature of a room where water is frequently on. Parents with a disability might want to consider some additional safety measures in the bathroom since they are at a greater risk of an accident. You can install handrails near the bathtub and toilet, place non-slips rugs or put down non-slip flooring, and use high lumen light bulbs so you can see potential tripping hazards.

●      Navigating ramps: For parents with mobility issues, ramps might already be installed in the house to help navigate stairs and other changes in floor levels. Be sure there are handrails on all of the ramps so that your toddler can learn to walk up and down without risking a tumble.

Basic Safety Measures

Regardless of your parenting situation, there are several basic safety measures that all parents should make sure are in place and check often to keep them working. If you have a disability, you might need to ask for help to maintain these important safety precautions:

●      Install and maintain smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors: There are special detectors you can purchase that help alert you to an emergency. Some vibrate to help alert people with a hearing impairment, while others can be positioned lower so a parent in a wheelchair can access them. Often, your local fire department will come by to install these units.

●      Secure large pieces of furniture and electronics: When kids are learning to stand and walk, they often grab onto anything they can to hoist themselves up. Make sure your heavy furniture, like bookcases, are bolted to the walls, and your unstable electronics, like televisions and computers, are securely fastened to surfaces.

Being a parent isn’t easy for anyone, but parents with disabilities have extra precautions they have to consider. Most importantly, pay attention to your baby and practice predicting their next move. Staying ahead means staying safe.

 

Ashley Taylor is a parent of two and advocate for parents with disabilities.  You can find more of her writing at her blog Disabled Parents.

Kristena Lowry