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What Are Your New Year Resolutions As A Parent of Someone With Special Needs

Updated: Apr 10

By Karen Kaplan

I wonder how different your New Year's resolutions are from a parent of a typical kiddo. I think they are somewhat the same, and then there are SOME BIG DIFFERENCES. I bet your deep breaths are deeper and longer as you think about the year ahead and reflect on the year passing. Do not forget to think about the baby steps that have been taken and the small steps forward you and your individual have made.

Here are some ideas for creating your own list regarding progress:

  1. Goals from the Individualized Education Program (IEP) have been met or even partially met.

  2. Perhaps they are beginning to learn some self-help skills. Maybe you have begun to coach instead of nanny them.

  3. Perhaps they sit now for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.

  4. Maybe eloping is less, and sleep is a bit more.

  5. Perhaps they have tried a new bit of food.

  6. Perhaps you have discovered an interest.

  7. Maybe they were not sent home from school in the past month or so.

  8. Perhaps they allowed you to trim their nails, brush tangles out of their hair and even go to the barber salon for a trim.

  9. Maybe their teacher sent home a positive note.

  10. Maybe you finally got off the waiting list for some home ABA therapy.

  11. Perhaps you and your partner had a date night.

  12. Maybe you found a like tribe and captured one idea from someone who has been in your shoes.

Next, I would like you to think about what you need in the New Year to be the best mom or dad, grandfather or grandmother, brother, or sister in a family with a special needs individual. Please make sure your New Year's resolutions include wellness for you. Remember, when you are well, you problem-solve better, find more patience, and see those baby steps occurring. Here are some examples of things you can do:

  1. Get a massage.

  2. Be sure to get outside the house, into nature if you can.

  3. Develop an exercise program.

  4. Eat nutritious foods.

  5. Spend a couple of hours with a friend doing something you like/love.

  6. Find a support group of moms or dads that can share.

  7. Get off the computer and iPhone screen and just breathe for an hour.

  8. Develop some positive mantras (I am doing my best. I am enough. Small Steps are Great)

  9. Ask for help.

  10. Keep a journal of your feelings to get them out and unstuck.

Now, find a quiet corner of the house, go to a park and sit under a tree, or go to your favorite coffee house and order an extra-large cappuccino and put some resolutions down on paper. Just write. Do not overthink. Write everything you think you need to accomplish. Then go back and evaluate the list. Which are true priorities? Number them. Then write out those true priorities. Here are some ideas:

  1. Find a better occupational therapist who truly understands my individual.

  2. Find a speech therapist who can provide alternative communication device strategies.

  3. Identify a sleep clinic that might be able to evaluate and provide ideas.

  4. Research the best nutrition to feed the brain.

  5. Schedule a time to visit the school or adult program and truly learn what your individual is experiencing throughout their day.

  6. Review all progress reports sent to you by the district and ask WHY goals are not being met, and do not let them tell you there is not enough time. Instead, look at materials, lessons, tools, and meaningfulness. Something needs to change.

  7. Get a list of all adult programs to be prepared for their Individual Transition Planning (ITP) with the district. Visit them. Which ones make you feel comfortable?

  8. Invite your Regional Center Case Worker to all Individual Transition Program planning meetings.

  9. Write out all independent living skills your individual still needs to learn, prioritize them, and start teaching them—one step at a time.

  10. Attend parent support groups to get ideas.

  11. Design an exercise program for your individual and begin it slowly. Exercise is key. Start with a walk around the block.

Perhaps write out the first step for each true priority. Then, be sure to take this next step as well. Let go of what no longer serves you and your individual from this year. Please do not take it into the new year. Instead, write them out and burn the paper on which you wrote them. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Those who do not understand.

  2. Those who have given up on your individual.

  3. Only seeing the disability and not their abilities.

  4. Stressful IEP or ITP meetings.

  5. Regional Centers that lack supports and services.

  6. Long waiting lists for intervention specialists.

We must leave behind that which no longer positively supports our lives. We all need to remember our little successes and allow some gratitude to set in. All of us are looking for fresh starts, understanding from others, some joy, and hope for a prosperous, healthy, and positive new year. Those of you with individuals who learn differently are also hoping that your resolutions bring answers to how you can continue to nurture the growth of your individual with special needs and keep positive while moving through the complex and often cumbersome systems here to support you.


For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.


Matrix Parent Network

Autism Society of America Autism Society

United Cerebral Palsy United Cerebral Palsy (

Department of Rehabilitation CA Department of Rehabilitation

State Department of Education California Department of Education (Specialized Programs)

Grandparents Association Grandparent Group - PACER Center

Karen Kaplan is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor's and master's degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education and obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karan founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road Finding Hope for Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.

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