One in five Canadians suffers from mental health issues. In the US, it’s estimated that 25% of American children will struggle with a mental health disorder.
Those numbers are frightening. Being a parent is already the toughest job there is, but if you add special needs to the equation, the challenge is ten-fold. In Canada, children’s mental health is the most underfunded area of health care. In the US, the services are there... but only if you can afford them.
This leaves families of special needs kids in a worrisome and overwhelming position. They are struggling and desperate for support, but they are often left alone to cope as best as they can.
Families with “normal” kids deal with the regular demands of child raising; imagine, if you can, what it is like for families trying to survive issues such as rage attacks, older children in diapers, constant medical emergencies, expensive counseling and therapy, endless phone calls from the school, learning disabilities, and your child’s tears because they’re the only one on the block not invited to the neighbouring child’s birthday party.
These issues are happening on top of the everyday pressure of work, finances, and ordinary daily problems. Those don’t stop just because you’re already overloaded with issues related to your child’s special needs!
As the parent of two special needs kids, there were days when they were young when I would feel particularly sorry for myself. Just getting them out the door for school required superhuman patience and all of my parenting skills. I desperately wanted normalcy for just one month or even a week. Heck, I would have taken even one day without my kids suffering a major meltdown.
One of the complaints I hear most frequently from families of special needs kids is how incredibly isolated they feel. It’s hard for other parents to relate to the day-to-day grind of family life with special needs kids. I’d try to invite other moms and their children over for play dates, but I always worried whether my kids were going to be on their best behaviour that day. Invitations to other people’s homes were few and far between.
So what’s the solution? I certainly don’t have any magic solutions up my sleeve, but I can say from experience that the following things helped ease the stress:
This is especially true for parents of special needs kids. I used to go to my fitness club and put my kids in the babysitting service for one hour when I was at my wit’s end… not just because I needed a workout, but because I wanted an opportunity to have a warm, uninterrupted shower on my own.
I recently found a great site - supportforspecialneeds.com. Followers of this site are in the same boat as you. They won’t judge you, and they’ll try to help.
See if there are people who can give you a break every once in a while. Having something to look forward to at the end of the week can sustain you through some of the toughest days.
No one can offer to help if they don’t know how desperate you’re feeling. I’ve also found it helpful to talk to teachers and even the students in my kids’ classrooms. People are usually a lot more understanding and patient with your kids if you’ve been open with them about the issues. I always asked my kids for permission before speaking to their classmates, but they were usually open to the idea.
Have you got any other suggestions to add to the above list? I’d love to hear from you. I keep saying this over and over because I truly believe that “together we are stronger”!
As a community, we can move mountains but as individuals, our energy levels are limited.