The Importance of Self-Care for Parents of Special Needs Children

By Dwayne English, MS, Counseling Psychology-Intern

Dwayne English is one of our advanced standing interns here at Aspyre Wellness, working out of our Oswego Office.  Dwayne is a graduate student at Colorado State University, completing his master’s in counseling psychology, a police sergeant with the Joliet Police Department where he serves as the departments Public Information Officer, and himself the father of an adult son with special needs.  Please enjoy this article from Dwayne!

Beyond the already challenging world of parenting, the experience of parents of children with special needs frequently includes a tremendous sense of loneliness and isolation.  Much of the isolation is attributed to the round the clock caregiving responsibilities as well as medical visits, multiple therapy appointments, and maintaining the child’s well-known routine which often leave parents with little time or energy to interact with the rest of the world.  In addition to navigating these challenges, parents of special needs children often face stigma and misunderstanding as parents may encounter uncomfortable situations or judgment from others who do not fully comprehend the challenges they face, causing them to withdraw from social interactions.  Parents of special needs children often encounter stigmatization within their own families or others close to them as they might not fully understand the challenges these parents face, leaving them without the emotional support network that we all vastly need.  Imagine a lone lighthouse on a remote shore, its light rarely reaching others while throwing a wide beam into the night. Similar to this lighthouse, parents of children with special needs may feel that their attempts to connect and share their stories are frequently met with long lengths of isolation. Trying to connect with others by emitting light, yet the isolation and distance continue.

Isolation and loneliness can act as significant catalysts for the emergence of a variety of complex emotional issues. The human experience is social, and the lack of strong social ties can have a domino effect on poor emotional outcomes.   Long-term social isolation can damage self-esteem over time, leaving one with feelings of inadequacy and a skewed view of their own psyche. The ensuing mental anguish may develop as depression when the ongoing feeling of solitude feeds a crippling cycle of negative thoughts and depressed mood.

Self-care for a parent of a child with special needs is crucial.  Taking care of your own needs not only benefits you, but it also enables you to support your child more effectively. Consider the following self-care techniques:

  • As support from a mental health clinician can provide helpful coping mechanisms and emotional release, consider attending therapy sessions to share your feelings, anxieties, and challenges in a private, safe setting.
  • To avoid burnout and to make time for your personal needs, set boundaries. Learn to say no when it’s appropriate and refrain from taking on too many responsibilities in your life.  
  • Add regular exercise to your schedule to improve your attitude and vitality.  Exercise at home or even brief walks can have a big impact.
  • Set aside time each week for relaxing activities that you enjoy.  Take part in activities that you are passionate about, even if just for a short time.
  • Seek online communities and forums where you can share experiences and find understanding and community.  
  • Being a caregiver to someone with special needs takes a village.  Ask for help from family and friends, even it if is not caregiving related (store, errands, etc).  Check your pride at the door.  Clearly communicate your needs and accept assistance when it is offered.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *