Dealing with Stress in Your Family with a Special Needs Child

This month at my parent support group meeting the topic was “Stress on Families.”  I didn’t have a large turnout, but we had a great conversation.  As usual I only briefly touched on our topic so I thought I would elaborate a little more here. 

First and foremost I want to say that it takes more parental energy to parent a special needs kid. Specifically I will address kids on the autism spectrum and with ADHD.   One thing I mentioned tonight was that we have to be watching our children constantly, but we also are watching (and trying to control) the environment.  It takes a lot of brain power to be “on” all the time.  Going out can be, well not worth it sometimes.  I know at our house we went for six months where I didn’t want to go to any of my families houses.  It takes too much effort to follow my children around make sure they are not into anything, breaking anything, or having huge meltdowns.  People would freak out and tell me that I need  to relax, and so I would try.  Then when they would do get into something, break something, or have a meltdown people would freak out again.  It was just too hard.  Thankfully it got easier.

There are so many “extra” stresses on families with special needs kids.  The mental exhaustion mentioned above.  The feelings of inadequacy also mentioned above.  Concerns over money and time due to the evaluations, doctor appointments, various therapies.  Stress over trying to get the schools to meet your child’s needs.  Worries about your child’s future.  Then there is guilt and grief.  Guilt that maybe this was your fault or it runs in your family.  Grief that your child is not a “typical child.”  More guilt about feeling that grief.  (This can be a bad cycle.)  Guilt that your “normal children” are not getting what they need due to all of your care and energy of your special needs child.    There is just so much stress.

There are things that you can do to help yourself and your family.  There are big things and little things to help with the stress.

  • Schedule date night–this is huge in keeping your marriage as a priority.  I have friends that can’t afford to go out.  So they plan date night.  First they put the kids in bed.  Then they pull out their PlayStation (sometimes cards) and a bottle of wine.  Their date lasts only for an hour or two, but it is their time.
  • prayer–individual, with your husband, and as a family.  Praying alone is therapeutic and necessary.  Praying with your spouse is powerfully connective, as is praying as a family.
  • exercise–why else would I get up at 5 to walk 2.5 miles???
  • writing in a journal–or a blog  🙂
  • talking to a friend on the phone with a cup of tea/coffee/ or whatever makes you happy
  • shut yourself in the bathroom spray yourself with something nice (Victoria Secret’s Love Spell is wonderful) then breathe deep

Lastly though I want to mention family dates.  I think for our “typical” children they often get a lot of responsibility and sometimes less attention than their counterparts.  I truly think scheduling time where that child is the center of attention is important.  If you never go to the amusement park because it is too loud, crowded, or whatever for your special needs child, then take your other child by himself sometime.  It is important to schedule their quality time as well.  That will help everyone’s stress.

Support groups can be helpful, but shouldn’t feel like more work.  In some cases counseling may also be an option. 

Don’t ignore your stress.  Your mind and body can only take so much.  Make certain you are taking care of yourself as well as your family.

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with Stress in Your Family with a Special Needs Child

  1. I just took the little guy to the movies a couple weeks ago. I don’t know what he loved more: special time with me or a huge screen filled with nothing but StarWars! I am sure it was the StarWars. But our little date was good.

    I do like my date nights with the hubby. 🙂

    Also, bubbles, bath, and a book are good. Or maybe that special chocolate (thank you Cassie) that you keep in your fridge to sneak here and there. Love it!

    The best advice I think I could ever give is to listen to your friend’s advice and smile at your child everyday. The days when I think I could explode are the days I pray even harder in thanksgiving for the precious child I have been given.

  2. It can be overwhelming caring for a child with special needs. Shortly Evan will be returning home and I am trying to get things ready for his transition.

    Oddly enough, when I am feeling stressed, coloring helps alleviate those feelings!

  3. Pingback: The Idea of Keeping an Art Journal « Just a glimpse

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