Parenting / Relationships / Special Needs Parenting

Handling Stress as a Parent of a Special Needs Child

Being the parent of a special needs child can be really stressful. REALLY stressful. The unique child can push you to your absolute limits in all aspects of your life. Coping with that stress and finding the right techniques to keep you calm can be tricky. I will share with you what I have learned so far.

The Heavy Burden

Recently, I have become more aware of how heavy the stress of having an autistic son really is. One of my therapist friends told me that what I have been through (and am still going through) with my son is actually trauma. Trauma can take many forms. It doesn’t have to be one acute event. Trauma can be being under a lot of stress for a long period of time. Trauma can also be where your core beliefs about life are put into question.

When we started wondering if Luke could be autistic, the stress in my life quadrupled. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure what my future would be like. Would he learn to talk? Would he have to live with us his entire life? I also started hearing a lot about the importance of early intervention. Early intervention is great – but it sure doesn’t make a stressed parent less stressed when you start telling them that they need to do ALL the therapies NOW because if the child doesn’t have the therapies before the age of 5, then they won’t progress.

So I started doing ALL the therapies we could. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel going as fast as I could, but getting no where. The therapies weren’t working. And I often blamed myself. Maybe I didn’t do the practices often enough. Maybe I did the practices wrong. Of course right around the time Luke was diagnosed as autistic and I started all the therapies, I had a baby! Talk about stress.

white and black i am a good girl card

How I try to cope with my Stress

  1. I tried to get as much help as possible. I put my son in a school for 6 hours a day just so that I could cope. I hired a neighbor girl to help me clean my house for awhile. I sent my baby to another neighbor’s house for a few hours a week so that I could breathe. We started using the Family Support Center for respite care. We signed up for government services (unfortunately there is a five year waiting list for DSPD services in our state). So eventually we will get more help, haha.
  2. I started writing out my feelings. It doesn’t help to push the negative, stressful feelings away and pretend like they aren’t there. Acknowledge them. Call them out into the open. Write out all your thoughts so that they don’t have to continue churning inside of you.
    1. Write about everything you are worried about. But also write about what could go right in the future. Imagine that everything might work out just fine. Try to believe that this is exactly how everything should be.
    2. Even though you are writing out these negative thoughts doesn’t mean you have to believe them. Don’t start dwelling on them and wondering what is wrong with you. Just acknowledge that they are natural and that it is totally okay to have such thoughts.
  3. I started doing yoga. The skill of being able to quiet your anxious mind is crucial. Whenever you start getting upset, come back to the awareness of your breath. Breathe in and out, in and out. Yoga is a great practice for becoming calm and still. And it is great for stressed people who have a lot of tension and pain in their shoulders and neck because yoga focuses on stretching and strengthening those muscles.
  4. I blocked out personal time everyday. This is time when you can do WHATEVER you want. Lately, I have been going to bed around 8.30 so that I can wake up at 5.30am. My kids wake up around 7am so 5.30-7am is my time. If I have this time, I feel so much more ready to start the day and take care of my kids.
  5. I try to get away from my responsibilities every once in awhile. If you can, find a group of people to go have fun with once a month. This stress reliever can do a lot for you. Again, you NEED time away from this special needs child. Make it a priority to get 3 hours to yourself. Or half a day. Or a weekend on occasion.

I hope that you can find some things that work for you – whatever your stresses are. Life is hard – be kind to yourself as you are trying to figure these things out.

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