Being a parent is hard for anyone. For special needs parents, however, it can be even harder. Autism, down syndrome, sensory processing disorder, muscular dystrophy; those are just a handful of the special needs that children can face. While parents of special needs children love their little ones just as much as those who are parents to typically developing children, the struggles they face are exponentially more challenging than the average parent.
Special needs parents are just as exhausted and just as frustrated as the average parent; however, add to that judgments their children have to endure, the extra care their kids need, the guilt that they feel and all of the other difficulties that they face, and it’s safe to say that the challenges that these parents face are a bit more than the challenges that the parents of average children face.
I’m not a parent of a special needs child, but I did grow up with a brother who had special needs, and I used to be a teacher. Those two experiences combined have lead me to realize how challenging being a parent to a special needs child must be. I also spoke to some special needs parents, and here's a look at some of the struggles they deal with that are different than the struggles us average needs parents face.
12 Constantly Worry Their Child Won't Be Accepted
Every parent worries that their child won’t be accepted, will be bullied or will be cast out; however, for parents of special needs children, these worries are even greater.
People tend to be scared of things that are different and things that they aren’t comfortable with. Children that have special needs are different than typically developing children, and those differences can make people uncomfortable. As a result, it’s not uncommon for these children to be teased, picked on, name-called and just left out, which can make the challenges that a special needs child faces even greater. It’s difficult to live in a world where you don’t feel accepted, and for parents, it’s incredibly difficult to watch their children endure the suffering that comes along with not being accepted.
11 Money Becomes A Dark Cloud Overhead
Finances are a concern for most parents, but for parents of special needs kids, they can be all-encompassing. Medical care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, special equipment, medications and all of the other things that a special needs child might need, on top of the things that any other child would need… Food, clothing, shelter, activities, education, childcare (which is even more expensive when a child has special needs)… It can lead to serious financial hardship.
Instead of saving for vacations with their kids, special needs parents have to save for the care that their kids need, and those are costs that are never ending. A lot of special needs parents end up in financial turmoil in order to provide their children with the care they require.
10 Always Told The Kid Will "Grow Out Of It"
Whether it’s autism or cerebral palsy, for some reason, many people assume that children who have special needs will “grow out of it.” Here’s the thing: special needs are not a phase; they are permanent, as in, they are lifelong.
Can those needs become easier to handle for both parents and children? Depending on the condition, they can; however, it can take years of therapies and interventions in order to get to that point. And, even then, the needs still exist and are still a challenge that parents and children have to deal with.
By assuming that a child will “grow out of it,” people are essentially saying that they don’t accept the diagnosis.
9 It's Hard To See Other Children Grow Up
It can be so hard for special needs children to successfully do what comes naturally to typically developing children, such as walking, talking, dressing themselves and feeding themselves. For parents of these children, it can be hard to watch other children who are successfully reaching milestones at appropriate times.
It’s not that they aren’t happy for those children and their parents, it’s that it can make it harder for them to watch the struggles that their own children have to deal with in order to do things that are so easy for other children to do.
With that being said, it can be far more rewarding to see their children reach those milestones when they do.
8 They Feel Judged By Everyone
Parents of special needs kids constantly feel like they are being judged. They feel like their parenting skills are being judged, and they feel like their kids are being judged.
I remember the looks my mother and my brother received when we were growing up from other people… I felt uncomfortable because of the looks that people flashed, and I can only imagine how my mother, and moreover, my brother, felt. I felt absolutely horrible for them.
On many occasions, I wanted to open my mouth and say something to those people who stared, but my mother would hold my arm and just give me a “We got this” look. I was only the sister. I can’t even imagine what my mother felt, and what parents of special needs kids feel.
7 They're Always Worrying About Their Kid's Health
All parents worry about their children’s development; however, for special needs parents, this worry is far greater than the parents of children who do not have special needs.
Will they walk? Will they talk? Will they be able to go to public school? Will they need specialists? Will they ever be able to use dress and bathe themselves? Drive a car? Live on their own? And perhaps the worst worry of them all is how long their children will physically be on the earth.
Many conditions that classify a child as special needs can shorten life expectancy, and the last thing that any parent wants is to have to experience the loss of a child.
6 The Hospital Is Their Second Home
Depending on the type of diagnosis that a special needs child has, there is a very good chance that doctors and hospitals are a normal part of their routine. That means that instead of planning play dates and soccer practices into their schedules, they are planning doctor’s appointments and hospital visits.
It can be very difficult to schedule these plans, too. Work and other obligations have to be juggled around, doctors have to be available and if there are other children, care for those children also has to be planned while the special needs child received medical care. On top of all of that, making these type of appointments can be very depressing.
5 Constantly Offered Unwarranted Advice
For some reason, people feel the need to offer all parents advice that pertains to raising their children, and that advice is not always welcomed. Special needs parents, in particular, are constantly offered advice from friends, family members and even people they run into at the grocery store. My mother used to constantly hear advice from people that had no idea who she or my brother was and it drove both of them insane.
While yes, those who put their two cents in may have the best intentions, it can make parents and their children feel uncomfortable, and even worse, it can make them feel as if they are being singled out, which is something that they have to contend with on a regular basis already.
4 They Feel Purposely Avoided By Others
What’s worse than feeling alone? Feeling shunned. Purposefully avoided. Left out.
The “friends” of special needs parents who do stick around may choose not to include them in activities for fear that an issue may arise. They may fear that an “episode” may occur, and that “episode” may make them uncomfortable; not the parents of the special needs child, or the child him- or herself, but the “friends” of the family.
In order to avoid any awkwardness, those “friends” may stop inviting the parents of special needs kids to outings and events. The first time, it may be a coincidence. The second, it still may be a coincidence. The third (and so on,) it becomes clear to special needs parents that they are being excluded, and they know the reason why.
3 They Need Extra Support - But Don't Have It
Every parent needs support, even those who have typically developing children; but parents of kids with special needs require even more support, even if they don’t say it.
They work extremely hard to care for their children. They also have a lot of emotional turmoil and stress that they have to contend with. These things can make it very difficult for these parents to attend to other things. Sometimes, they just need an extra helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, or someone to listen.
They need extra love and affection. They need to be built up. They need to be told that they are doing a good job. That extra support can really make all of the difference in the world.
2 They're Always Burnt Out
… Like, as if they have a newborn tired, but all the time.
Parenthood is exhausting, especially those first few months; however, as a typically developing child grows, his or her sleep patterns change, which means they usually sleep more, and their parents, in turn, can sleep more. For parents of special needs children, though, getting enough sleep is often impossible.
Their children may have special sleep patterns, or they may extreme difficulty falling – and staying – asleep. Add to that all of the extra care that special needs children require, the planning, the doctor’s appointments and then trying to juggle all of the other aspects of life, like raising other children, working, tending to a house, errands… It’s no wonder why parents of special needs children are so exhausted.
1 And Feel Like They Don't Have Anyone
Isolation is something that all parents have to contend with. Being stuck with little humans that don’t speak full sentences, need to be tended to constantly and don’t understand the needs of adults can make anyone feel lonely. For parents of special needs kids, the isolation can be even greater.
Their “friends” can disappear when they feel things are too “difficult” to watch. Those friends are, for lack of a better word, avoiding a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. If there’s anyone who could use the love and support of a trusted friend, it’s a special needs parent. Unfortunately, the friends that they relied on before the child arrived often disappear when the going gets tough.