Parents of Special Needs Children also have Special Needs

We are happy to learn that researchers have been studying ways to address the mental and emotional health of those who parent children with special needs. According to proponents of those studies, until recently, most programs and resources have been dedicated to sharpening parenting skills, rather than recognizing that special needs parents have unattended mental and emotional health issues related to caring for their children.

We hear from parents of children with special needs when they call to ask about audio programs for their children, and they frequently select titles for themselves.

Sleep is a major issue among many of the special needs parents with whom we communicate. Some parents say that when they do get time to sleep, they are too keyed-up, worried or just plain burned-out to get restorative sleep. I recently spoke to a woman who called to order Magic Island, by Betty Mehling, to be sent to one of the mothers in her support group. She had ordered it for her son, who has cerebral palsy. He liked it so much that she decided to share it.

I was happy to answer questions about the various audio programs, so she could choose some for herself. She said her biggest challenge was sleeping. Her son sometimes stayed at her mother’s house overnight, but she was unable to calm her mind, which went off in many directions and ran a ‘to-do’ list in her head.

She chose Belleruth’s Healthful Sleep and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Guided Mindfulness Meditation. I was certain she would be sharing these with her support group in no time.
Shortly after I spoke to her, I was delighted to read about several studies involving the use of mindfulness, breath-work, qigong and other mind-body modalities to address mental and emotional health challenges for parents of children with special needs.

A New York Times article, When the Caregivers Need Healing, by Catherine St. Louis, mentions a study using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, breathing exercises and qigong to ease distress in mothers of autistic children.

Mindfulness Training helps Teachers and Parents of Special Needs Children on the website, looks at the increased level of attention and additional resources of compassion, understanding and patience required to parent and teach special needs children. It examines the role mindfulness training can play in mitigating the tension and emotional exhaustion faced by parents and teachers.

The questions and comments we receive from parents usually involve dealing with emotions that arise when parents are frustrated and exhausted. Belleruth’s recent blog post, Mom Asks for Tools to Help Reduce Anger & Impatience with Her ADHD Kid answers questions from a mother of a child with ADHD, but BR’s recommendations are helpful for all parents, particularly those who have children with special needs.

Parents who are already overwhelmed can find that when their children start school, the picture becomes even more complicated. Children with special needs also have special educational needs. The U.S. Department of Education has a website that offers information and resources for parents of special needs children from pre-school through college.

Below are a few of the numerous websites, resources and support groups for parents of children with special needs:

Easter Seals Disability Services

42 Great Down Syndrome Resources

Autism Speaks

The M.O.R.G.A.N. Project

Center for Parent Information and Resources