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Problems Faced by Parents of Mentally Challenged Children

author image J. Lucy Boyd
J. Lucy Boyd, RN, BSN has written several nonfiction books including "The Complete Guide to Healthy Cooking and Nutrition for College Students." She is frequently called upon to provide career guidance to medical professionals and advice to parents of children with challenges. She also loves teaching others to cook for their families.
Problems Faced by Parents of Mentally Challenged Children
A smiling little girl holding her mother's hand on a couch. Photo Credit RYO/a.collectionRF/amana images/Getty Images


Raising a child who is mentally challenged requires emotional strength and flexibility. The child has special needs in addition to the regular needs of all children, and parents can find themselves overwhelmed by various medical, caregiving and educational responsibilities. Whether the special needs of the child are minimal or complex, the parents are inevitably affected. Support from family, friends, the community or paid caregivers is critical to maintaining balance in the home.

Emotional Issues

Parents of mentally challenged children commonly experience a gamut of emotions over the years. They often struggle with guilt. One or both parents may feel as though they somehow caused the child to be disabled, whether from genetics, alcohol use, stress, or other logical or illogical reasons. This guilt can harm the parent's emotional health if it is not dealt with. Some parents struggle with "why" and experience a spiritual crisis or blame the other parent. Most parents have aspirations for their child from the time of her birth and can experience severe disappointment that she will not be president, a physician, an actor or whatever they had in mind. These parents must deal with the "death" of the perfect child who existed in their minds and learn to love and accept the child they have. Occasionally, parent feel embarrassed or ashamed that their child is mentally disabled.

Physical Exhaustion and Stress

Physical exhaustion can take a toll on the parents of a mentally challenged child. The degree of this is usually relative to the amount of care needed. Feeding, bathing, moving, clothing and diapering an infant is much easier physically than doing the same tasks for someone who weighs 80 pounds. The child may have more physician and other health-care appointments than a typical child and may need close medical monitoring. He may also need to be watched to avoid inadvertent self-harm such as falling down stairs or walking into the street. These additional responsibilities can take a physical toll on a parent, leading to exhaustion. The American Academy of Family Physicians relates that these issues can cause significant caregiver stress.

School-Related Issues

The parent of a child with developmental disabilities may have to deal with complex issues related to education. Either a private education must be sought, or an adequate public education must be available. Parents often have to advocate for their child to receive a quality educational experience that will enrich her. This often requires close parental contact with the school system. The parent must monitor the child's interactions with others to ensure she is not being bullied. Transportation to and from school may require a specialized bus or van, and children with severe disabilities may need to be schooled at home.

Financial Concerns

Raising a child with a mental challenge may be more expensive than raising a typical child. These expenses can arise from medical equipment and supplies, medical care, caregiving expenses, private education, tutoring, adaptive learning equipment or specialized transportation. The care of the child may last a lifetime instead of 18 years. Parents may have to set aside money in a trust fund for the child's care when they pass away.

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