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Parents of Special Needs Children: Who Takes Care Of You?

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Even under the best of circumstances, parenting is difficult. But add special needs on top of baseline care, and it can be overwhelming. If your child has special needs, your lifestyle is much different than many of your extended family, friends and neighbors. You have daily complications they might not fully understand. No doubt you can add to the list below based on your own unique situation.

  • You child needs more supervision and structured activities
  • Your child may need help with simple tasks
  • Your child many not communicate well
  • Your child may need more help with school work
  • You spend more time in doctor’s offices

Above all, you carry the knowledge that your parental commitment is open-ended. Your responsibilities will continue far past the times when the children of others have left the nest. All of these factors can result in physical, mental and emotional distress.

But always remember: It’s okay to have negative feelings about your situation, it’s okay to schedule time for yourself and it’s okay to ask for help.

Dealing with Negative Feelings

First, know that it’s okay to feel frustrated or angry—with your friends, your loved ones and even your child. Allow yourself to feel these emotions. In fact, the only emotion you shouldn’t feel is guilt. Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you don’t love your child or your spouse. Just because you wish you could have your friends’ or neighbors’ way of life for just one day doesn’t mean you hate your lifestyle. Acknowledge that you have negative feelings and that this is natural. Fighting or suppressing them can often make feelings more intense and outbursts more frequent.

What About You?

Parenting a special needs child is exhausting. Because your daily activities are so demanding, it can be hard to find time for your own well-being. A few moments to rest and recover from the draining activities of the day is often a luxury. But as Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” For this reason, it’s vital that you make every effort to take care of yourself while you take care of your child. WebMD offers the following suggestions:

  • Build a support system. Seek out local groups and parent network organizations for families of children with autism. Ask your physician or child developmental specialist for referrals. Join online forums for parents of children with special needs.
  • Make time for your relationships. Try to schedule regular dates with your partner and outings with friends. Keep up with the activities you enjoy together.
  • Make time for just you. What fills your tank? Whether it’s a grueling yoga class, a great book or time outdoors, put solo time on your calendar and don’t put it off. Encourage your spouse to do the same for him/herself.

Some Good News:

You might have heard speculation about an 80% divorce rate among parents of children with autism. But according to a 2012 survey in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, there is no evidence to suggest that children with autism are at an increased risk for parental divorce compared to children without autism in the United States. You and your spouse won’t always be on the same page, but that’s the case regardless of your child’s needs.

Find What Works

Your child’s needs are unique, and so is your family. No one feels exactly the way you do. While these general suggestions may prove beneficial, experiment and find what works best for you. Finally if you or your partner feel persistently overwhelmed or depressed, or if the stress of caring for a disabled child is affecting your relationship, simply having an objective person to talk to can sometimes make all the difference.

Who to Call

At Stenzel Clinical, we have a team of over 30 counselors and therapists across four Chicagoland locations. Each of us have a different style and specialty. We are here to remind you that there is always hope, and we’re ready to walk with you on your journey.

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