I was a stay-at-home-mom when I decided to return to graduate school to study clinical psychology. I’m not saying I needed to get away, but....we were not a typical household: with three boys who would all eventually be diagnosed with some form of Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder, at times it certainly didn’t hurt to have some space! By the age of four, my middle son had already been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder; the diagnosis of ADHD had been a long-time coming by the time he was eight. My experiences raising my children and the desire to understand propelled me back into psychology to help our family and others. One of the notable reasons I work at St. Raphael’s today is because Dr. Jim Langley tested two of my sons for ADHD and he was extremely helpful in aiding us to comprehend why was going on with our unique children. As a parent, when you have been struggling to do just that (understand/accept, or even empathize), often times having a diagnosis can offer a more clear direction which can bring stabilization to a family as well as relief.
Most of us struggle with labeling our children. We don’t want them to fail, to be different, to be “less than” their peers, to be stigmatized. Guess what? Neither do our kids! I am convinced that children want to do well, they want to please us, and they want to earn whatever rewards are out there: smiles, praise, stickers, candy, or extra time for video games. And yet, when they cannot do well and they struggle, perhaps because of learning issues or attention problems, we all feel it. Homework is frustrating, teachers are exasperated, friends are annoyed, and the principal’s office is no longer an abstract concept but a home away from home. Seeking an accurate diagnosis is critical to finding the right road to travel down and can make all the difference in the journey. The destination is to help our children reach their highest potential in every area of their life.
It takes a Village
Let’s face it –being a parent of ANY child is not easy. Being a parent of an atypical child requires a superhero cape and reservoirs of time, energy, money, patience, and prayer. Since most of us are lacking in at least one of these areas at any given time, we need to access professionals who can help us understand the diagnosis and suggest treatment options. We also need the help of family and friends to support us along the way. Parenting children with any kind of special need increases caregiving responsibilities that can cause anxiety, depression, and create conflict between spouses. To mitigate these negative responses, it is important that parents attend to their own needs, and those of their marriage.
The majority of parents cope exceptionally well with their child’s atypical needs and those who do have several things in common. They:
•Stay engaged - work to find solutions rather than disengaging
•Get connected - with other parents who have similar experiences
•Take time alone - as individuals and as a couple
•Are spiritually active – pray, meditate, attend services
Many parents of children with special needs get to a point where they feel that their family’s experience has allowed them to find greater meaning in life and has brought them closer together. If you aren’t there yet, consider consulting with a therapist who specializes in working with parents of children with special needs. Every parent feels overwhelmed at times, and this is especially true for parents of special needs children. However, engaging with a qualified therapist can help parents help themselves, so that they can once again put on the superhero cape and live to fight another day!