It is so difficult to parent in these fast-paced, highly-stressful times. Both moms and dads are working to make ends meet. There is homework, extra-curricular activities, and sometimes children have additional learning needs or challenges as well. Parents barely have time to meet their own needs as individuals, much less take care of the couple relationship. That is part of the reason why divorce rates are so high in families today.
In special needs families, or families where children have learning challenges, neuro developmental disorders like autism, ADHD and/or other physical issues, it is even more pronounced. On top of that, often parents have their own marital issues to deal with. It is important that parents prioritize self-care and time for their relationship, so that they can co-parent effectively with their child, whatever the other challenges may be. I am the mother of a wonderful, funny, intelligent and social child who just happens to have autism. I tell everybody that he is the one raising me, to be a better, more compassionate woman, mother, and human being. I believe that all our children teach us about ourselves, the world, and what we need to do to heal.
Children whose parents do not work together to co-parent amicably, maturely, and fairly, have children who feel overwhelmed, neglected, and stressed. It's time for the adults in the room to take the next step in acknowledging what they need to change in their lives to give their children all they've got. Remember, children are the future of the world. Let's give them a great running start!
My girlfriend and I are both involved with parents who have children with special needs. Joanne has a son who has autism. Caring for her son's special needs requires TLC and really understanding his challenges, as well as what are the best conditions he needs to thrive. Special need children are also those who've lived through an ugly relationship split, and they are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues. Because of this, they are also more likely to drop out of school.
Divorced parents need to stop passing on their emotional scars to their children or have them in the middle of their crisis.
As for me, I was a child with special needs. I did not have autism, ADHD or other physical issues. My needs were deep emotional scars that required special attention. Growing up, my parent's pattern of communication was toxic and needless to say, for a child it was extremely stressful. I felt so insecure and fearful that sleeping alone every night was a nightmare. My parent's negative patterns led them to divorce. So began my "Conflict of Loyalty" journey, which created an emotional unbalance in me.
My journey during my primary school years was a reflection of how I felt about myself. My mind was clouded. It was difficult for me to learn. I was labeled a special need child. Back in my day, medication was not the solution, although I think, in most cases, it still is not the solution to heal emotional scars. I was transferred to a specialized school. After almost a full year in this school, my grades skyrocketed. Why was I able to learn in that school? It was because I mattered and felt I was worthy.
These days, there are so many special needs children who really don't need medication, only more time with their parents and less chaos. Sometimes some medication can be used alongside a new communication or learning program at home, but it is important to remember that medication does not cure all. Special needs kids have to have parents who understand what they are living. As for me, my teacher understood what I was going through.
A parent's relationship crisis is not the child's crisis. Divorced parents need to stop passing on their emotional scars to their children or have them in the middle of their crisis. This has a major impact on how children learn in school and cope with the rest of their life. Giving pills is not the solution to help your child focus in his/her school work, unless they have been diagnosed with high-functioning ADD /ADHD/ASD, or with other learning challenges. Even then, the best approach is to consult with your child's medical and therapy team if they have one. There are always some side effects which parents need to be aware of and monitor.
I am a first person advocate to co-parent in harmony. Children need their parent's attention and help. Parents who are co-parenting, need to recognize what kind of negative behaviours may cause more conflict, or make life more difficult for your children growing up between two homes. Learn to replace unwanted negative behaviours and focus on favourable behaviours to help you, your ex-partner, and your child heal so you can all thrive in your lives.
Be a healthy resource for your special needs child. Have a healthy peaceful loving relationship with all your children. Remember to fill your special needs child's emotional tank. Children love both their parents equally.
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Say “hi,” introduce yourself, ask questions... just be yourself. And don’t be horrified if your child asks why our child looks different or "talks funny." Instead of shushing them and pulling them away use it as a teachable moment. You can even ask us to help. “You can tell if someone has good intentions,” shares Louise Kinross, the mother of a young adult with a rare genetic condition and creator of the BLOOM blog.
Parents of children with special needs appreciate the help or will tell you if they don’t need it (please don’t automatically step in and start wheeling our kids around, though). And if you’re the friend of someone who has a child with special needs offer a cooked meal, a coffee date or an hour of babysitting. Our stress levels are sky-high and we always appreciate an offer or real, specific help.
Staring is rude, but if you feel compelled to stare at least offer up a smile. But don’t worry if you just happen to be staring in my kid’s direction while in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like state -– we’ve been there and we won’t hold it against you.
“A friendly smile and/or a hello is so much more welcome and goes a long way in breaking the ice,” says Liza Sneyd, mom to two children with cerebral palsy. And teaching your child to smile is a lot easier if you’re flashing us a grin yourself.
Invite us to playdates and to birthday parties. If you’re not sure how to accommodate our child or how they can participate in activates, just ask us. We’re usually experts in modifying or figuring out creative ways for our kids to enjoy the things that other kids like.
“Hold the door for my daughter instead of letting it slam shut on her and her wheelchair,” says Lana Jones, who has a teenage daughter with cerebral palsy. “Don’t step in front of my son’s wheelchair so he can’t see,” shares Barb DeRoo, mom of a son with cerebral palsy and creator of Zach’s List.
Despite the fact that I get asked to write articles like this, I am not a perfect parent. My kid can get on my very. Last. Nerve. She can also warm my heart like no other -– just like any kid. When you say: “I don’t know how you do it,” my answer will always be: “It’s simple. I do it because this is my child and I love her. It is all I know.”
More often than not parents of kids with special needs have a strong belief in the strength and resilience of their kids. Our kids face insurmountable odds, often with a smile on their face and a lot of strength in their hearts. They are super heroes, not victims. And while you’re at it remember that our lives may have some extra challenges, but we still face the same difficulties you do. Treat us like parents -– it is what we have in common.
Don’t use the word retard (replace it with ridiculous instead). Don’t ask: What’s “wrong” with a child? Initiate age-appropriate conversations and don’t automatically use baby talk. Use "people-first" language that puts the person before the disability (e.g a child with autism, not an autistic child). It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about the fact that words matter. After all you are reading this, right?
Kindness isn’t sympathy or pity –- it is being a good person. Teach your children the same. It really is that simple.
Follow Anna Giannone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/annag_coach