“Nobody said it was easy/No one ever said it would be so hard.”
While these lyrics from the British rock band Coldplay reference a love relationship, they could just as well apply to parenting a special needs child.
Parenting is a hard job, arguably one of the hardest. But parenting special needs children raises the bar even higher.
There are added challenges and responsibilities. Therapy sessions. Doctor’s appointments. Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings at school. Not to mention tantrums, or mood swings, or care needed for physical disabilities.
It might all sound overwhelming, and it certainly can be. But no matter how difficult, parenting a special needs child is often described as a labor of love.
Whether a child has autism or Tourette’s syndrome, many of the struggles in parenting a special needs child are universal.
A few common struggles include:
- The emotional impact of the disability on parents and other family members
- The feeling of being alone and isolated when parenting a special needs child
- Finding the right services for a developmentally or physically disabled child
- Having the money to pay for extra services or other needs
- Worrying about how child will function as an adult
Luckily, there are answers, or at least guidance, for many of these struggles. Numerous support groups, national organizations, government agencies and educational programs are available to the parents of special needs children.
Labor = Hard Work (But Worth It!)
Labor is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “physical and mental exertion; work.”
While that may have negative connotations, there is also much pleasure and satisfaction derived from working hard to reach a specific goal or achievement.
In the case of parenting special needs children, the satisfaction comes, for instance, when that child performs a task that might seem routine but might have required a lot of effort to achieve.
Success stories abound about nonverbal autistic children who utter their first words or communicate in some manner for the first time, or those with a learning disability who grasp a particular concept that’s eluded them. And while the parent of any child feels proud of that child’s accomplishments, the road traveled by a special needs parent might be that much longer, that much rougher.
Much of these successes can be linked directly to the parent. It’s likely they have gone the extra mile to help their children reach a particular milestone.
But is that extra mile devoid of any rest stops? For many, success with a special needs child can depend heavily on taking time for oneself.
Taking Care of You
So many parents of special needs children will tell you that parenting such a child is not always 100 percent about the child. You can only help the child if you also help yourself.
Some suggestions include:
- Applying stress management techniques. Take yoga or just go for long, quiet walks. Anything to relax and clear your mind.
- Joining a support group. It’s been said a million times and bears saying again: it often helps to know that there’s others out there sharing what you’re going through. You might also get helpful tips about what works for them and apply these to your own situation.
- Pursuing your own hobbies and interests. You’d be amazed to find how re-charged you’ll feel when you can shift your focus off of being a special needs parent and do something you enjoy doing for yourself for an hour or two a day, or even just a few times a week.
There’s no denying that parenting a special needs child is hard work. Laying bricks or paving roads is hard work, too. But bricks and roads cannot share in the joy of achievement, cannot return a hug, cannot express their love.
It’s that love that makes it worthwhile.