Wearing a Special Needs Baby

As the mother of a child with severe developmental delay I can't imagine life without babywearing. (I haven't quite come to grips with the term babywearing but I will use it in this article to distinguish between holding in a carrier - wearing, and holding in arms - carrying.)

When our second child hit 10 kilograms we had to start taking our pushchair when we did the grocery shopping. He was too heavy for the baby seats in the trolleys but he couldn't sit up to use the standard seats. A pushchair, a trolley, two pre-schoolers, and a month's worth of groceries in a busy store had me thinking there must be a better way.

During my hunt for alternatives I eventually discovered the world of wraparound carriers. For our next grocery trip I was able to wear my son on my back and leave the pushchair at home.

A Happy Place

About a month after we started wrapping we attended a five-day assessment involving 13 different appointments. This is a LOT for a 19 month old to cope with! When he needed to sleep I was able to put him in a carrier and he could refresh himself physically - and emotionally - at the same time.

Developmental Aid
Part of our son's physical therapy was (and is) getting him in well supported sitting positions. His upper body strength improved significantly, and I'm sure this was, in part, from being worn.

I also find it much easier to remember to talk to him when he's right there with me. Our first child had demanded constant conversation but I found I needed to make an effort to talk directly to our second while I was busy doing things.

Life Goes On
Involving him in the day-to-day business of the household has become much easier too. Because it required two hands to carry him I either had to make several trips, or leave him alone while I moved about. With my boy on my back I could, for example, hang washing and swing our oldest child, without neglecting our second.

Supporting the emotions of children is obviously important in all families and even more so when they have a high maintenance sibling. Ideally in the moments when my first-born's world is crumbling I drop everything and tend just to her, when that's not possible she loves to climb on my back. It allows me to get a few things done while she hides from the worries of the world and soaks in some Mummy time.

Now that Adonijah is a big brother I wear the children more than ever. Our newborn can watch the world from my back, then fall in to a peaceful sleep listening to my heartbeat, and I can still tend to the other two. I get to sit at the table while my oldest eats breakfast and my lap is still free for giving my second some food. I can work with my special needs child without having to decide between him and the baby. With one worn and one carried I am able to take them both to do simple things, like seeing visitors to their cars.

Refining the Art
We often have to refine different ties to suit our particular needs. When we first started the Back Wrap Cross Carry I had to have the top cross supporting my son's head. When I was learning the Rucksack I had to swaddle him to achieve it. I've never had much success with front carries but bear in mind I didn't start wearing him until he was 18 months. By that age it took two hands to hold him on my front and I needed another two to manipulate the wrap! If I HAD to do front carries I would have persevered and conquered them though. (Just after he turned two my son was having a minor operation so I practised front carries a bit more diligently in preparation for that, while they were still not my favourites I did get better at them when they were needed.)

Many "mainstream" carriers are too short now that I have a (long) two and a half year old. They are understandably designed to allow older children to have their arms out. Which is not an option for us.

It takes longer getting my son in a comfortable carry, which bothered me for a while; eventually I thought about the fact that it also takes longer than others to get him in a carseat or to do most every day things, I was then able to see our situation for what it is.
There are so many variables that I can't give specific advice in an article. For example, with low muscle tone we need carriers that fully support his head; Downs Syndrome children are often not meant to have their legs straddled; a child with any paralysis or stiffening will have different needs again. I would encourage you though, to go to TBW's forums to ask questions and get advice specific to your situation.

I think any form of special needs is going to make wearing more challenging but the result is definitely worth it!

By: Sally Gillespie 2006