What Parents Of Children With Special Needs Want You To Know


Parents of children with mental and physical challenges feel alone. And although they are not alone, an estimated 1:4 people in our country have some sort of mental health concern, they try to cover up what is going on behind closed doors until they just can’t any more.  It’s a process, at first they think and are usually told, “it’s normal…all kids do that at some point…” and then it gets worse. The crying, agitation, fussing, tantrums and lack of flexibility become worse, not better with age. The difficulty on play dates, challenges at school and public tantrums become overwhelming. At some point, a teacher, the pediatrician or a friend might suggest that they “go see someone.”  There is the whole process of trying to find that someone, what do all those credentials mean, do you start with medication, should you get an evaluation or start with therapy and how do you find someone who accepts your insurance and is accepting new patients. The process is challenging, your life is challenging and it starts to become consuming. Many parents try to sneak away from their desk during their work hours to call the list they have been handed. They often need to wait for returned calls and sometimes miss them. Simply missing a returned call can send a parent into tears, as every day they don’t figure out what is going on with their child is another day they feel like a failure.

Then, comes the day you have to bring your child in. Some kids are okay with it, some even plead for the help. Others are angry, resistive, and threatening. Almost half of American mothers are single parents so they may be doing this alone.  Scared and desperate they figure out a way to get their kid there.  And for some, it is the first time they are really telling their story- unfiltered and free to speak without judgment parents describe what they have been going through. It is usually hell. What starts off as some concerns quickly becomes an experience that can tear apart families. These constant yet unpredictable behaviors and emotions coming from their child can lead these parents to remove themselves from others.  It causes major questioning of what went wrong or what did they do to deserve this.

For those of you who cannot personally relate to this experience just know how important it is for you to understand as best you can the epidemic of childhood mental illness in our country. You may be the grandparent, boss, co-worker or neighbor of a child who has special needs. You really do have the power to help, maybe through listening or providing support to save a parent from losing their cool, withdrawing or becoming hopeless.  If you see a parent who is clearly struggling- reach out to her. Don’t let her tell you that everything is okay when clearly it is not. 

Once a diagnosis comes, such as Bipolar Disorder or Autism a parent’s world is rocked. Their fear has become a reality and they can no longer hide behind the false belief that this will pass. There is a mourning period, so when they make you look at baby pictures and want to reminisce, just do it. They are grieving for the child they love so much and brought into this world. With time, they will have a new normal but in the beginning you just need to listen, be understanding and not distance yourself. All too often, parents of children with special needs feel isolated and not understood. So, now you know- do something today that shows your loved one that you are there for them and that you are doing your best to understand how to be there for them.