Raising children in a home that is safe is the first responsibility of any parent, but that goes double for anybody caring for a disabled child. Being both a parent and a full-time caregiver can be challenging, but with the right adjustments to your home the job can be made considerably easier.
The Ideal Home for Physical Disabilities
Physical disability can be challenging for anybody, and the home should be a sanctuary in which a child can thrive and feel wholly safe and comfortable. Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act gave rise to a range of guidelines that will allow for wheelchair users to maneuver freely around a home.
The most essential elements of these regulations revolve around access points – which are designed with wheelchair users in mind, but could apply to anybody with limited mobility. At least one entrance to the home must be made available without the use of stairs (wheelchair ramps are obviously the best way to provide this), and there must be a turning radius of at least 5ft2 in the vicinity of this entrance. Handrails located throughout the house will also be hugely beneficial, and if the house in question covers multiple floors the bedroom of a disabled child – and wherever possible, at least one bathroom – should be upon the ground level. You could consider the use of some kind of elevator to negotiate flights of stairs, but this could be placing your child at unnecessary risk.
Also, do not neglect the height of cupboards and doors. Advice for a wheelchair user is to have mounted cabinets no higher than 15” from the ground, but when dealing with a disabled child it may be worth aiming even lower. This same advice also applies to bathrooms; while any wheelchair user will require the use of grab-bars and removable shower and bathing seats and at least 18” of maneuverability between solid walls, the potential size of a child will need to be taken into consideration here. You should also consider the fact that children have a tendency to undertake growth spurts, so nothing too permanent should be installed without sacrificing safety in case you need to later replace it with a similar item of larger capacity. ADA Bathroom has more information that may well prove invaluable.
Of course, this is a great deal of work – which also comes with a substantial price tag. We’ll discuss potential financial assistance that may be open to you later in this article, but as much of a wrench though it may be, it could be more fiscally prudent to consider moving to a more disability-friendly home rather than embarking on wholesale renovations.
The Ideal Home for Sensory and Learning Disabilities
Although wheelchair use is arguably the most frequent example of incapacity in America, it’s important not forget other forms of disability.
Blindness in children can be require a great deal of adaptation within the home. The American Foundation for the Blind is an invaluable resource in this instance, with their official site containing a variety of tips that center around the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
You’ll have to extremely vigilant in ensuring that there are no risks of slips, trips and falls throughout your home – whether that is in communal areas such as hallways or in the child’s personal space – and leave at least three feet of space around solid objects to allow safe movement.
Blind children will quickly learn to see with their hands, so consider leaving particular food and drink items in clear space with labels that can be deciphered by touch, and have particular spaces where things are kept when not in use so that your child will also know where to find something they may be looking for. If you have a young child that has lost – or never gained – the use of their vision, consider filling your home with other sensory stimulation, such as noisy toys.
Of course, not all sensory disabilities revolve around a loss of vision or sound – some children are particularly susceptible to sensory overload, particularly those on the Autistic spectrum. In these instances, it is hugely important that you take the needs of these children into consideration. Use dimmer switches on all lights, so that a child sensitive to bright illumination is not exposes to excessive brightness. Use neutral scents around the home, if any at all – do not overload sensitive noses with strong smelling air fresheners. And perhaps most importantly of all, ensure that your child has a ‘safe space’ that they can call their own.
Children prone to sensory overload will need to seek solace on occasion, so have a room – or even just a corner of one – dedicated to optional time-outs. This area should contain a comfortable seat, and plenty of opportunities to decompress away from the distractions of modern life – potentially using an eye mask to shield vision, earplugs or headphones to allow quiet reflection (or, at the very least, to control the sensory input the child is experiencing). All of this should prevent a meltdown caused by sensory overload.
The opposite of this could be a child is described as a ‘sensory seeker’ – a different form sensory disorder (often misdiagnosed as ADHD) which means that a child that simply cannot get enough sensory stimulation and will look to experience every sight, sound, taste and feeling possible. If this applies to your child, fill you home with as many interesting sensations as humanly possible. Noisy toys, rough and smooth sensations, and perhaps most importantly, plenty of soft wall spaces that children can run and bump into without hurting themselves. Obviously it goes without saying, but if you have a sensory seeking youngster, cover all electrical appliances for safety and keep anything that can be ingested (medications, cleaning products, etc) far out of reach lest they end up in your child’s mouth.
There is always plenty to bear in mind when you are the parent or primary caregiver of a disabled child. For example, do you have a medical kit kept in a secure location? And are you prepared for a power outage that may impact on essential medications? It is always worth considering the purchase of a back-up power generator in case you need to keep medications refrigerated or potentially life-saving equipment charged to capacity. Think about such essential elements as fire safety too, and whether your child will have a clear and safe path out of the property in such a scenario, and if you will need to make any adaptation surrounding electrical appliances.
Sources of Funding Assistance
If your child has recent been involved in an accident or developed a medical condition that has left them unexpectedly disabled, you may be worrying about how you will be able to pay for all the amendments that will be required within your home. Don’t panic – financial aid is available from a great many resources. These include:
- The Department of Social Security, who provide benefits to children under the age of 18 living with disability, along with their carers.
- Rebuilding Together, who may be able to assist with the financial burden of modifying your home to accommodate disability.
- GrantWatch, which compiles up-to-date information on any assistance available based upon a variety of locations and disabilities.
- Grants.gov, which lists all grants available to US citizens – many of which the entitled claimants have no idea about.
- Benefit Finder, which will help any parent or carer discover what financial assistance that they will be eligible to claim.
- Access Board – US Government
- ADA Bathroom
- ADA Standards for Accessible Design
- American Foundation for the Blind
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Autism Society
- Benefit Finder
- Department of Social Security Benefits for Disabled Children
- National Fire Protection Association
- Rebuilding Together
- SPD Life