Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

By Ashley Taylor

According to the World Health Organisation, about 15 percent of people worldwide live with a disability. Many of us have dreams of becoming parents, but we face certain challenges that aren’t shared by the non-disabled. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible — far from it. For many people with disabilities, parenthood simply requires a little more preparation and planning. If you have a disability and are starting to think about parenthood, here’s how you can prepare.

Pre-Pregnancy Planning

It’s important to understand how your disability could affect your fertility, pregnancy, and future child. For example, is your disability hereditary? Could it affect your ability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term? Will it increase your chances of a high-risk pregnancy? These are questions to address with your doctor before trying to conceive. Even if the answers aren’t what you’d hoped, you still have options. Donor eggs, in-vitro fertilization, genetic screening, and prenatal testing are among the options that can help people with disabilities become parents.

Home Adaptations

Parents with disabilities have to go beyond the standard baby-proofing measures. Routine tasks become harder when you’re caring an infant, so if you’re going to parent safely and comfortably, you need a home that’s fully adapted to your disability. Depending on the nature of your disability, you may need to replace stairs with ramps, install user-friendly light switches and cabinet hardware, widen doorways with expandable hinges, lower kitchen counters, add slip-resistant flooring throughout your home, or make other home modifications. As you go through daily life, take note of the home features that cause you the most difficulty and start brainstorming how you can adapt them.

Child Care Equipment and Knowledge

Parents with disabilities often must take a creative approach to routine child care tasks like breastfeeding, changing diapers, and carrying their baby. While there’s always an element of “on-the-job training” when it comes to parenting, there are some things you can do to prepare. In addition to working with an occupational therapist and taking classes for expectant parents, consider spending time with friends who have infants so you can get hands-on practice caring for a baby. This also provides an opportunity to experiment with different child care equipment so you can find the products that work best for you. However, realize that you may not be able to meet all your needs with off-the-shelf products and might have to purchase specialized equipment. Often this means finding someone who can fabricate products to your specific needs.

Financial Preparations

Getting your financial life ready for a child is something all new parents have to do, but a disability means additional factors to consider. You may have to pay more for adaptive child care equipment and home modifications that let you parent independently; depending on the extent of renovations required, this could run in the thousands of dollars. And while occupational therapy can be incredibly valuable for helping you learn how to care for an infant, it’s not free. It’s important to assess these expenses during pre-pregnancy planning so you can budget accordingly. This is also the time to see if you qualify for assistance from the Department of Human Services.

Just as every disability is different, the needs of every disabled parent will vary. However, this guide should give you a helpful starting point for assessing what you need to accomplish before bringing a child into your life. Once you’re armed with the necessary knowledge and tools, you can start focusing on the more exciting parts of adding to your family, like picking names and designing the nursery!

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