The joys of parenthood cannot be overstated. Nor can the stress and anxiety that invariably accompanies it, even under the best circumstances. Add to that the demands of caring for a child with special needs, and it is no wonder that:
- Mothers caring for children with autism have stress levels equivalent to those of soldiers in combat.
- Those stresses can also make them more susceptible to physical illnesses.
- Caring for a special needs child takes as much time as a second full-time job and is associated with a greater incidence of depression.
- Eighty-five percent of parents of children with autism worry that their child will not be financially secure after their death.
- The COVID-19 pandemic correlated with an uptick in mental and behavioral problems among parents of children with special needs.
So, who’s taking care of the special needs parents? Too often, the answer is, ‘No one.’
Parents go to extraordinary lengths to design and implement personalized programs for their children, negotiate bureaucracies, and reimagine their entire personal and financial lives but are often left to fend for themselves to maintain their physical and emotional equilibrium.
Others who have been there before them, and the friends, families, loved ones, teachers, therapists, and strangers who provide much-needed emotional support, have distilled some gems of advice that can help:
8 tips for a special needs parent
1. You can’t do it all
It would be easy to conclude that only you can provide what’s best for your special needs child. But successfully raising your child takes a team.
2. Give yourself a break
Exhaustion and frustration can lead to burnout. If you can afford to hire a sitter to give you an evening out, preferably one who understands your child’s needs, you will likely come back refreshed and better able to care for your child. Just getting a friend or family member to take over for an hour or two can make a big difference.
Some communities even have respite care programs for people caring for disabled parents or children.
3. Do something you love
Does taking a walk, hitting a ball, or playing a tune give you a boost? Not every moment of your limited free time needs to be devoted to refining your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or pushing for more services. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for others is to take care of yourself.
4. You aren’t alone
One in five families in the U.S. cares for a child with special needs. Programs and support groups help parents of special needs children to reach out to one another. You may be surprised at how much you have in common, even with parents whose children have different needs than your own.
5. Remember why you care
Raising any child takes a lot of effort, and every child has a lot to give. Sometimes, it may feel like your special needs child is more of a management challenge than a source of joy, but taking the time every day to play and communicate with your child can remind you why you make an effort.
6. Your other relationships matter
Sometimes, your spouse, other children, friends, or family may feel neglected because of all the time and energy devoted to your child. A family outing, thoughtful gesture, special treat, or just some extra attention can go a long way toward soothing hurt feelings.
Remember that you and your spouse or partner must work together to do what’s best for your child. Disagreements are inevitable, but they are easier to get past if you keep in mind that you are on the same side.
A happy, loving environment is optimal for everyone, including all of your children. And there are many resources to help support neurotypical siblings. Educational institutions and private groups have ongoing virtual group sessions for siblings such as:
Check your local resources for similar programs and sign up.
7. Happy is better than normal
The fact that their special needs children may not fit in with the other kids in a given situation can be a source of embarrassment to some parents. Your child may never be ‘normal.’ Focus instead on how they can be happy and enjoy a good quality of life. This article is about the experience of raising a child with a disability has been a source of comfort to many families.
8. Help is available
It’s easy to lose sight of the help available through schools, local, state, and federal agencies and programs, private programs and foundations, and legal, financial, and therapeutic professionals specializing in children with special needs.
How others can show support for parents of a child with special needs
- Help out – An offer to babysit can be wonderful, but even running an errand, ferrying a friend or loved one’s kids to their extra-curricular activities, or taking them to the park is already a big help.
- Lend a sympathetic ear – Sometimes, the difference between falling apart and muddling through is a sympathetic ear. They don’t need to provide answers or sage advice. Just listen.
- Be inclusive – Perhaps a friend or loved one can include your child in playdates, sleepovers, and outings. This would demonstrate they are willing to do more than talk the talk. It can also enrich those activities for all involved.
- Offer to play a role – The daily effort of advocating for services and support for a special needs child can be daunting. Having someone accompany you to an IEP meeting or a parent-teacher conference can help you feel less alone.
Healthy well-being for parents of children with special needs
Parenting is stressful, but paying attention to your needs can make taking care of your special needs child more rewarding. Studies show it can also help you be a better parent.
To lessen the things you are thinking about, talk to a special needs financial planner and create a financial safety net for your child. Set up a call →.
Jeff Vistica, CFP®, ChSNC®, AIF®
Jeff is the co-founding partner of Valiant Partners, a registered investment advisory firm located in Carlsbad, Calif. Valiant Partners devotes its practice exclusively to serving the needs of parents with special needs children.