How to Care for a Child Who Has Been Paralyzed in an Accident

The life of a child with a recent spinal cord injury (SCI) is filled with uncertainty for both the child and their parents. For the child, they don’t know what is going to happen to them or how those around them will react to their injury and resulting paralysis. For the parents, it creates a lot of questions about how to help their loved one with their injury and the ways they can help them to achieve their maximum recovery potential.

Every year, there are an estimated 17,500 new spinal cord injuries that occur. SCIs are most commonly the result of automobile accidents, which have accounted for 38.4% of all cases since 2010. However, many children also sustain these injuries as a result of sports or other athletic endeavors.

As a parent, when your child suffers a life-altering spinal cord injury, what do you do? How do you care for them? And, where do you find the financial and emotional support you need to do so?

We’ve put together a list of some of the things every parent can to do help their child who has been paralyzed in an accident.

Carefully Explain What Has Occurred to Your Child

Trying to explain a spinal cord injury to a child is difficult, especially if they are very young because they may not understand what you’re trying to tell them. However, providing them with this information is an important part of the growth process, and trying to find the right information or way to present it to them can be particularly daunting. This is where books for children with spinal cord injuries can come in handy.

Providing them with the right book (or books) can help to inform them about their injury as well as provide hope and reassurance that they are not alone. Just because they have an injury doesn’t mean that their life is over — they still can have an incredible life ahead of them. They can learn from these stories of others’ experiences to be optimistic about their chances of recovery.

Provide Physical Support for Their Recovery and Daily Care

For a child paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, there are many physical challenges they now face that you can help them deal with or overcome on a daily basis. There are additional challenges when caring for a child quadriplegic, as they require a different level of special attention and care than one that is paraplegic.

Do some research and speak with your child’s doctor to figure out what the best treatment options would be and where. There are hospitals and rehabilitation centers throughout the United States that specialize in spinal cord injury care and recovery. Furthermore, there are activity-based therapy (ABT) centers available as well that can help them work to regain strength and motor function.

Provide Emotional Support and Positive Encouragement

Although this is easier said than done, being there to support your child emotionally is just as important as helping them physically. They are experiencing many physical and emotional changes that they likely don’t know how to process.

Don’t allow their injury to define who they are as individuals or make everything about their physical limitations. Instead, help them to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t do.

Additionally, remind them that their relationship with you is strong and that you love them. For your older children, assure them that you are there for them because you want to be and that they are not a burden.

Help Them Connect with Other SCI Survivors

There is an incredible power that comes with being part of a community. For your child, that’s knowing that there are others who can relate to what they are going through. Matt Brown, a spinal cord injury survivor who was paralyzed after a hockey accident when he was 15, says that connecting with other kids who were going through similar situations helped him immensely.

According to Brown:

“It was a big deal talking with these kids about their injuries and how they were dealing with it. It helped knowing I was not the only one going through this and we helped each other just by talking.”

Don’t Wait to Seek Support

Contrary to what you may think or feel, you don’t have to do everything on your own. Ask family and friends for help, especially right after your child has been injured. You’ll be amazed the amount of support your family will receive. has a wide range of resources and an entire community of SCI survivors and family members who can provide additional support.

There are other local and national disability groups that can help you connect with resources and mentors as well, including the Dana & Christopher Reeve Foundation.

Figure Out What Legal Options You Have

As you know, the medical bills and other expenses quickly add up when you’re caring for a child paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that the average annual expenses in the first year after a high tetraplegia SCI tops nearly $1.08 million. The expenses average $187,443 for each year that follows. That’s millions of dollars in the average lifetime of a spinal cord injury survivor.

If your child’s injury is the result of someone else’s actions or inactions, you may be able to receive financial compensation by working with a caring and experienced spinal cord injury lawyer. This money can help you cover the costs of caring for your child, as well as lost wages that result from you or your spouse having to take time off from work to provide care.

This financial grounding helps you to ensure that your child receives the care they need as well as provides protection and support for your family.

Take Care of Yourself

When you’re caring for your paralyzed child, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. It just seems to get lost in the whirlwind of everything that has happened. However, ask yourself: How much (and how well) can you really help them if you’re not taking care of yourself? Taking care of yourself means getting adequate sleep, eating right, finding support, and even taking time to yourself to just breathe or clear your head.

If you’re not sleeping, you’re not going to have the mental clarity or patience needed to help your child through their situation. Additionally, your body will begin to shut down without rest for extended periods of time or you may begin to develop health issues of your own.

Food also is important; it’s the fuel that powers your body and mind. Just like you want to ensure that your child is eating healthy to support their recovery and to maintain a healthy weight, it’s important that you do the same for yourself.

Connecting with other parents in the spinal cord injury community can provide an incredible wealth of support and information. It is a way to learn from other parents about best practices or ways to approach different situations and to develop friendships with others who can relate to what you’re going through.

Lastly, be sure to take some time to yourself. If you have a spouse or another family member who can help out sometimes, it provides an opportunity for you to take a few minutes or hours to step away from the situation. Go for a walk or the gym. Go to the beach. Go visit a friend.

Taking time to yourself isn’t selfish; it’s helping you to “recharge” your batteries. In addition to helping yourself, it’s also helping you to be there for your child in a better physical or mental state.

To learn more about caring for a child paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, be sure to check out our free guide by clicking on the image below.


Topics: Spinal Cord Injury, Caregivers, Advice & Tips

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