When working with children or youth with developmental disabilities, a lot of emphasis is put on rehabilitation and functioning. This is especially true for children with motor disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy (CP) and other similar limiting disabilities, where the difficulties in functioning are very obvious. The parents put all their energy and hopes into improving the child’s abilities. This parental investment is justified and very important, since the younger the age the treatments and exercises begin, the better chances the child has of realizing and developing his/her abilities. However, a great need for emotional treatment appears over time with these children – hardly surprising, since these children and adolescents’ life circumstances are complex and challenging.
Whenever possible, children with CP are integrated into the regular education system; others attend special education systems that are adapted to their needs. For the children in the regular education system, it is important that we do not ignore the challenges they encounter and the special efforts they have to make in dealing with an environment of typical children. Such an environment can enhance their sense of ability, but may also increase the sense of alienation and being different. This becomes more and more of an issue as the children grow up and becomes a central issue in adolescence.
Many of these children have difficulties beyond the motor disability, such as attention deficit disorders, significant learning disorders, difficulties in organization and long reaction times, and of course difficulties of an emotional origin such as: passiveness and avoidance, anger issues, low moods, highly dependent behavior, and their environment, caregivers and parents, sensing that they are not realizing their potential. On the other hand, we sometime see children who are constantly in good spirits, acting as though their disability does not hold them back at all, to the great admiration of their environment. Both types of children often require professional help.
The parents also go a long way, starting from infancy, with years of huge efforts and going to different professionals, in order to help their child advance, searching for appropriate frameworks, and often with necessary surgeries and medical interventions. It may sound odd, but it often takes years for parents to accept that their child has a disability and will remain with limited abilities to some degree. It takes years for them to adjust their feelings and the expectations they have from themselves and from their child. They too can benefit from professional guidance.
For the children, adolescence raises in greater force the feeling of being different. As their peers begin to pay more attention to appearance and dress, friendships begin and romantic fantasies increase, the gap between themselves and the other boys and girls becomes more and more noticeable.
Beit Issie Shapiro’s Family Therapy Center provides therapeutic services to these children and youth and to their families. From our experience, emotional treatment can be of tremendous help to the children and their parents as they transition through various developmental stages and help relieve stressful life situations. To effectively treat these children and adolescents requires integration of knowledge and professional experience from different fields – children’s and adolescents’ psychology as well as medical and neurological knowledge regarding the various disabilities. Thus we can make clear distinctions between difficulties related to the physical, physiological problems and difficulties of an emotional or environmental origin.