Disabled tamariki need stability, structure, and love to thrive. Using strategies that focus on their capabilities and strengths will create a positive environment in which they can do well.

Whānau caring for a child with a disability can face extra challenges, particularly when it comes to managing behaviour. It requires patience and flexibility. Acknowledging that a disability is not something that can be “fixed” is an important step in building a loving and supportive environment.

Disabled tamariki may need extra help and time to complete tasks and understand concepts. For those with an intellectual or learning disability, it can help to remember that their developmental age will be different from their actual age. The best approach is to focus on capabilities and strengths.

Tamariki with a disability are individuals with interests and hopes just like everyone else. Boosting their self-esteem and confidence is one of the easiest and most effective ways whānau can help them thrive. They can do this by providing opportunities for tamariki to do things they enjoy and by celebrating the wins – however small they seem. It can be fun to keep a scrapbook of achievements as a reminder of everything they have achieved.

Creating positive experiences

Here are some practical ways that whānau can create positive experiences. Remember that just because something worked one day, it might not the next! If something isn’t working, move on and try something else.

It can help for whānau to talk to friends, extended whānau, and other caregivers about the needs of their tamariki and how they can offer support.

Check surroundings

Is there too much noise, too many people, or bright lights? Planning in advance can take a lot of stress away and give tamariki the best chance to have a positive experience. For example, if large groups are upsetting, whānau events and catch-ups can be kept to small numbers.

Supervision should be consistent

Many disabled tamariki need close supervision. This should always be done by people who understand their needs, including the difference between their developmental age and their actual age.

Redirect challenging behaviour

Tamariki with cognitive or learning challenges may not be able to grasp consequences or understand punishments, so distraction is a better option. Intervene straight away if they are about to hurt themselves or someone else.

Repetition, reminders, and routine are important

If a child has difficulty remembering things, they may need support to complete tasks and make decisions. It can help to do things in the same order and at the same time each day. Using posters and sticky notes is a fun way to remind them what they need to do and where everything is kept.

Keep it focused and positive

Tamariki respond well when it's really clear about what they can do, rather than what they cannot. For example, rather than “don't hit” try “use your gentle hands please”. Questions that are focused and easy to understand can support kōrero too. For example, instead of “How was your day?” try “Did you read a book today?” and go from there. If things don’t make sense, ask simple questions to find out more. Be curious about finding the answer in a gentle way.

Encourage individuality

Disabled and neurodivergent tamariki have hopes and dreams just like everyone else. Whānau can focus on their strengths, such as creativity, bravery, friendliness, and determination. Boosting their self-esteem helps them feel confident and empowered.

Allow time and space to chill

Everyone needs time and space to recharge. This may be a quiet corner in the living room, or quiet time in their bedroom.

Be kind

Caring for a child with a disability means being patient and flexible. Find what works, be prepared for when it doesn’t, and focus on celebrating their achievements and interests, and encouraging their individuality.

Conversation ideas

What things do your tamariki enjoy the most? Do they like music? Drawing? Being outdoors?
What are their strengths? What makes them unique?
Tell me about something you’ve found that helps when your child is upset.
Tell me about your daily routine.
What's something your whānau does together to relax?

Awhi Ngā Mātua

Content adapted from our partner Awhi Ngā Mātua, an online community for parents and whānau of disabled and medically fragile tamariki.

Visit Awhi Ngā Mātua(external link)