I’m so glad to have Wrae Sanders as a guest blogger this week. Wrae writes about parenting and mental health from her unique perspective of having a child with special needs. Check out her post below!
The Reality of Special Needs Parenting
When we have children, there are so many things that we think about. We think about taking them on trips, teaching them all the fun things that we did as kids, getting them off to school, watching them make friends and grow into their own people.
One of the things we don’t think about is having a child with special needs. It usually isn’t on the list. We tend not to think about it very much because it’s hard to think about. It’s not fun to consider because it may change our frame of thinking about how we raise our children. It’s hard to imagine having to carry extra medical equipment everywhere, trying to find a wheelchair ramp in public places, the many appointments it takes to keep a special needs child healthy.
I have three children, one of which is on the autism spectrum. He also has ADHD (combined). Julian was five years old when he was diagnosed with both. He is now eleven years old. My other two are neurotypical- I don’t like using the word “normal” because, honestly, what is “normal”? I knew something was going on well before he was diagnosed. I worried about him constantly.
This is another factor that isn’t considered in thinking about having a child with special needs. It’s been said that parents of children with autism have stress levels comparable to combat veterans. I think this should apply to all special needs parents. We are continuously stressed out, whether we are in public or at home. We worry about milestones being hit on time, safety issues, food issues and allergies, sensory problems, social skills (one of my biggest worries over the last six years), medications, and the list goes on.
The question is, how do you cope with having a child with special needs? It’s a big question with many answers.
This is very important. Read everything you can on your child’s diagnosis. If there are multiple diagnoses, read up and make a binder of information for each one. I made two binders for this reason. It really helped me understand things.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions that may be very important to your child’s health. That’s what the doctors and specialists are there for.
Take care of yourself.
This is probably the most important tip of all. You can’t care for your child, other children, and the rest of your family if you’re drained. Take some time each day to care for you. This can mean a walk around the neighborhood, meditation, yoga, writing in a journal, whatever you enjoy, or something you have wanted to try.
Thanks to the joys of the internet, this has been made a lot easier. Family is not always supportive- I know this firsthand. If they aren’t, try looking online for nearby groups for parents of children with your child’s diagnosis. There are chat rooms available. I am in a few groups on Facebook for my area and a general one for parents of children with ADHD. This helps a lot. I know there are a lot of parents out there struggling just like me and have some of the same questions that I do.
Talk to someone.
If you need help with processing your emotions, reach out. Having a child with special needs is a life-changing thing and not everyone can process it well. It’s hard. However, it’s okay to reach out to a therapist, clergy, etc. It doesn’t have to be long-term.
Check in with your partner.
It is very important to stay on the same page with your child’s other parent. Communication is hard sometimes and can break down entirely when you feel alone in the process. In fact, this is one of the things that almost destroyed my marriage. Therefore, let them be involved in decisions, as in medication changes, appointments, etc. If they are not involved, then this may not be an option, but if it is, check in with them every few weeks to get their point of view on things. It may be more important than you think.
Learning to accept your child as they are and not what you want them to be can be difficult, depending on the needs. It can be very hard to watch other children run freely when your child is in a wheelchair, for example. Let your child have fun in the ways he/she can. Having a special needs child isn’t the end of the world – it is the beginning of a totally different world. Our special needs children teach us so much about ourselves that we never saw before.
Julian brought out the “mama bear” in me that I never knew I had until I had to start fighting for him. I had to fight his dad through two evaluations, putting him on medications and getting him into therapy for social skills before he finally accepted him for the wonderful child that he is. He had a very hard time seeing that something was “wrong” with his son. I also fought his elementary school for years to get him an IEP (Individual Education Plan) after all he got was a 504 Plan. I knew it didn’t fulfill his needs, and he finally got his IEP in the fifth grade. He is now in the 6th grade and doing better.
While learning to cope with our child’s special needs, whatever they may be, remember this: they didn’t ask for this. He/she didn’t ask to be born with heart problems, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism, or a number of other medical, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. What they did ask for is to be loved and cherished the way they are. These kids just want to be loved, cared for, and want to have all the fun they can possibly have. It’s up to us, their parents, to give them those things. If we are able to cope, we can do anything.
Wrae is a mental health and parenting blogger in Louisville, KY. She is married and has three children, who are 12, 11 and 9. She has a BA in Clinical Psychology from Spalding University.
When she is not writing, Wrae spends time with her family and friends, or is reading and/or listening to a true crime podcast. She also enjoys coloring in adult coloring books.
Follow her on Facebook and Instagram (@shortstackblogs).