Are you a special needs parent? Then you are not alone. And you most definitely deserve the support.
Did you know that special needs parents are more at risk for depression and anxiety than parents of “typically developing” youngsters? Also, 50% of all special needs parents experience marital discord resulting in divorce. Siblings of special needs children are also at an increased risk for depression and anxiety.
With all that bad news, where is the hope? The good news is this: With adequate social supports, resources, and self-care, parents of special needs children can experience a very fulfilling and meaningful life.
Stress can be managed and respite is available. It just takes motivation, social support, a compassionate psychotherapist, a stellar treatment team working with your child/family, and excellent self-care.
I, myself, have lived to tell the tale. One of my beautiful sons is challenged with dyslexia and sensory processing disorder. He is a child with what is called an “invisible disability.”
I would venture to say that this “disability” may really be a gift in disguise. My son looks and acts like any other typically developing boy, but neurologically, his brain circuitry/wiring does not fit into a square box.
And to be honest, even though that makes traditional education more challenging, I am glad he is “out of the box.” I am proud of my boy. He is of exceptional intelligence, creativity, compassion, and empathy.
I have no doubt my son will be successful and happy in whatever he endeavors to do in his life. And this is why: He has an education team that supports him in his learning style and honors his strengths. He has a family who loves him unconditionally, and he knows it.
My son has friends who “get” him and are just like him. They are golden, loyal friends. My son is learning his many wonderful strengths, focusing on his brilliance and skills that make him soar.
The path to success is different for each child. Remember, not all successful people have taken a traditional path (um… Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Leonardo Da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln…to name a few “out of the box” folks…)
What have I done to help myself as a special needs parent to stay out of depression and anxiety? I have practiced, although at times imperfectly, what I preach. A few pointers:
1) Get psychotherapy with a skilled, compassionate therapist who understands your unique challenges and the stress you are facing in this judgmental world.
2) Make communication with your significant other absolutely number one. Be a team and meet often to discuss not only educational planning for your child but also dreaming/envisioning/wondering for the future. Hope is an essential tool for resilience and joy.
3) Work closely with your child’s educational team to manifest your child’s highest potential and to help him/her to soar to their highest self-esteem.
4) Rely on your family/friends for social support. Problem-solve with your trusted circle of support to embrace you in both your darkest and most triumphant moments.
5) Connect with your spirituality or faith.
6) Practice good self-care. Exercise, meditation, good nutrition, good sleep, social support, and an occasional indulgence (massage, facial, etc.) are all needed.
8) Develop the mindset that your child is a child of great possibility and potential. Always. It just might take a different route than you imagined. And that is okay.
9) Be okay with saying “no.” Your demands as a special needs parent are above and beyond that of what is required of a “typically developing” youngster. Do not overcommit to obligations that really don’t serve a purpose of refueling you.
10). Self-care. Again.
I think the following poem by Emily Perl Kingsley sums up my sentiments in many ways. It is so eloquent and poignant. Thank you, Emily Perl Kingsley.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.
Holland is really not such a bad place at all. In fact, we are thinking of taking a trek to Italy from Holland…Yes, we can…and we will…
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