The 'Special Needs Child' Label: One Star's Story


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"Prepare yourself" is a phrase no new parent ever wants to hear from his or her child’s doctor. But actress Anna Faris and husband Chris Pratt were urged to do just that by the medical team tending to their son, Jack, who was born in 2012 nine weeks premature and weighing just 3 pounds. “We were told, ‘OK, you need to be prepared for raising a special-needs child,’” the Mom star recently revealed to GQ. “And we felt like it was devastating, but it also felt like, you know, we can do this.” Today, dad Pratt declared on the Late Show with David Letterman, his 2-year-old is “totally healthy.” 

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Not every family gets that happy ending though. More than 15 percent of children in the United States leave the hospital with special health care needs, according to the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health. “The first thing you need to realize,” according to Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and clinical associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, “is that medical prognoses are based on what other people have experienced in other situations.” Doctors did the right thing to warn Faris and Pratt, she tells Yahoo Parenting, but families in that situation should remember that they first need to get support for what they’re dealing with in the present moment: stress. “Don’t search ‘preemie lifetime problems,’” she cautions. “Get some sleep. Eat a good meal. This is the time to take care of yourself because the old advice is true: You have to put your facemask on before you can help anyone else.”

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Then turn to your baby’s doctor. “Make sure to not ask him or her, ‘How do kids in this situation do?’ but rather, ‘How is my child doing today?’” Gilboa advises. “That is the most important answer you can get every day to determine whether your stress level should be a one or 10.”

If you find out for sure that your child will have special health issues, you don’t have to look far for wisdom. Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses are a phenomenal resource, says Gilboa, who advises first asking the pros about transitional care services. “These are the people who’ll help you figure out what to do next for your child,” she says. “They’ll help hook you up with home service therapy information and marshal your resources.”

NICU nurses are also the best people to consult if you have more than one agency to choose from or want to get in touch with other parents who have been through similar situations. “Connect with a volunteer support group,” says Gilboa. “You’ll want Yelp, essentially, for all the services you’ll be considering. And parents who’ve been through this themselves — who come out with a positive outcome and want to help others — can be an invaluable resource.”