Tag Archives: children

Something “Special”

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When I started my journey down the path of psychology I was granted an amazing opportunity to work with a little 5 year old that had been diagnosed with Autism. At the time (I was only in my 3rd year of varsity) I didn’t really have a clue about the disorder, but was told to watch “Rain Man” and get an idea. Well, that little boy was nothing like Dustin Hoffman in the movie – for one, he was gorgeous (and I cant say the same for old Dustin), but mostly he was in a world of his own and could not count all the millions of gumballs in a gumball holder merely with a glance. No, he struggled daily simply to make eye contact, let alone engage in a game. He got scared or upset and couldn’t verbalise his feelings, and he did not like to be touched though you could see he longed for comfort.

This was the first of many experiences working with children with special needs – from Autism, to Down’s syndrome, to the hearing impaired. While I simply loved being a part of their developmental journey, and having a hand in their growth and learning, I was also acutely aware of the fact that I only “handled” them for a few hours a day. Their parents took over for the rest. And yes, it was through these special kids that I met their even more special mothers and fathers and gained a glimpse of what it means to parent a special needs child. So in today’s post, and as per request, I thought I’de take a deeper look at how parents cope with their child’s “special needs” diagnosis.

I think the most difficult part is the knowing, right from the start, that your child is different. It takes a while to muster the courage to take him for a consult, and you normally start at the GP. Unless the problem is obvious, most doctors will be loath to give a diagnosis so early, and will send you home with the words “developmentally delayed”. As time goes by, the problem becomes more pronounced and eventually you find yourself in a variety of offices with a range of professionals looking for an answer. When you are eventually slapped across the face with a diagnosis, the result is devastating, confusing and sends you reeling into a state of shock. Relief at finally knowing you were right all along, but despair at realising the magnitude of what has been said!

  • Families often slip into a state of disorganisation and neglect at this point. Questions regarding what you did wrong, how you will cope, whether you are adequate as a parent and what the future will be like all tend to surface at once. The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is ASK FOR HELP! Speak to relatives to pitch in and assist with lifts to school, meals etc. JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP and get as much information from others as you can.

Disbelief and denial are quick to follow. “Tommy can’t be Autistic, he doesn’t behave like Jane’s little boy” are some of the thoughts that may come to mind. Your child doesn’t fit the description 100% so maybe there was some mistake? Chances are there isn’t a mistake, but go get that second opinion if you need.

  • Try not to compare your child to others’ or to children you read about in books. Focus on the unique nature of your child – s/he will be different. The sooner you are able to acknowledge there is a problem, the sooner you will be able to find ways of coping with it and assisting your child.

But acknowledgement will bring anger, sadness, shame, anxiety and grief. You will mourn the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for your child. You will fear whether or not you can survive what it takes to parent this child. You will be angry that this happened to your family and ashamed at the (irrational and untrue) thought that it is because of something you did / did not do.

  • The best advice here is, do not be too hard on yourself. Cry if you need and get angry every now and then. See a professional if you need to talk. Start early on reminding yourself that you are just human and do not possess super powers – you will find yourself reminding yourself of this regularly in the future – you are not perfect and you do  not need to be! You just have to be good enough! You are allowed to cry and you are most definitely allowed to have a bad day every now and then.

Processing the emotion really assists in reaching a stage of adaptation and will also lessen the intensity of your emotions. Now begins the task of finding the best help there is for your child. You have accepted his/her condition and you have processed some of your emotions, so it easier to start doing what it takes. In researching the help there is, finding the right professionals and getting your child to the right schools – make sure of one thing:

  • That you don’t lose sight of yourself in all this. Focusing 100% of your energy on your child leaves very little for yourself and, if you and your family are to make it through this, then you have to be good to yourself too. There is nothing wrong with finding a competent and trustworthy baby sitter and getting out. There is nothing wrong with letting your hair down every now and then, or getting away without your child / children. You need some time to unwind and relax. Take care of yourself as well!

In all of this, remember too that professionals are quick to tell you what your child cannot do, how they will not be normal, how they can not speak etc. Keep focus on the things your child CAN do. Again, take stock of the unique attributes and character your child has, keep in mind the joy he/she brings and never lose sight of how well you have coped thus far!

I am not sure this post does the experience of parenting a child with special needs any justice. I do not have first hand experience of it, merely some “professional insight” (for what that’s worth) and a limited understanding of what it must be like to live with, care for, love and enjoy a child with special needs. As usual, please do feel free to add to the post – those with the experience are more in the know and I am sure have far more to share!

Untill next time remember:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Albert Einstein)

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The “D” Word – Dealing With Divorce

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Recently, I have found that the topic of divorce has been popping up in various conversations. It’s strange how you can go for months without hearing anyone talk about it, and then suddenly, it’s all you hear about – the “D” word. So I thought it would be relevant (and useful) to discuss some issues relating to the process of divorce and how to help children deal with it – because, lets face it, the kids are the victims here.

No one gets married with the option of divorcing – we all have stars in our eyes and huge hopes for the future when the knot is tied. Down the line, we even have kids and continue to hope and dream about their futures. However, in some cases (more these days than in the past – but that’s another topic for another day) these dreams and hopes begin to dim as the discord in the marriage increases. Today’s post is not going to deal with why and how this happens – but suffice to say that more and more marriages these days are on the rocks and headed for divorce, leaving a wake of collateral damage called children. So how can we make things easier for them?

In 8 easy points I will sum it up for you:

  1. First things first – be honest and communicate clearly! Depending on the age of the child, it is essential that you explain to them from the start what is happening and ensure they understand that it is NOT THEIR FAULT! This is something that you are more than likely going to have to repeat, because for some reason, kids always think they are to blame – so keep reassuring them that this is your mess, not theirs.
  1. Clearly explain the changes that will be taking place – everything from where they will be living, to whether or not they will still get to watch Ben10 on T.V. They need to be fully aware of the transition to make it less scary for them.
  1. Allow them to discuss their feelings with you. Create a space where it is OK for them to feel sad, scared, and even angry at you or your ex. Validate their feelings and reassure them that none of this changes how much you love them. Allow them to express wishes for you to reunite again – validate this wish, but make sure you also explain the finality of the decision.
  1. Remain civil and polite with your ex, especially in front of your children. This is a really important one, so listen up. Do not bad mouth your ex to your kids, do not blame, be angry at or lay guilt trips on your ex in front of the kids. Do not ask your kids to “report back” on your ex after visiting them and, ultimately, do not ask them to choose sides, or who they want to live with! Again, the dissolution of your marriage is your own doing and has nothing to do with the kids – they love each parent equally and should not be put in a position of having to break loyalty with either.
  1. Another really important issue – do not use your kids as emotional support. Having lost your partner and now, possibly, being on your own, makes it easy to lean on your kids for support. This often results in lasting damage and goes against the grain of parenting. Your kids need you to be the emotional support. They should not see you cry, they should not have you confide in them – let them keep the illusion that you are superhuman and can heal all hurts! They will need this especially during this time.
  1. Keep consistency in routine, rules and discipline. Make sure that homework times, meal times and bed times are adhered to. Ensure that rules that once were in the family unit still remain, as should methods of discipline. If you grounded your children before for coming home after a curfew, then continue this! Leniency and being spoilt does not make things easier for kids. Ensure that both you and your ex instil these consistent boundaries. While children often kick up against the rules, consistent boundaries and routines enable them to feel safe and secure, so you will, in fact, be doing them a service!
  1. Never ever say things like “you are so naughty – no wonder your mother left!” or “if you do that again I will send you to live with your father, he can have you”. If you are saying things like this, you might need to examine your own management of the situation and ask whether you are taking it out on your child.
  1. Lastly, seek support for yourself. This is a stressful time and a transition that is fraught with pain and guilt. If you do not seek help, or support, you are likely to let the emotional stress from the divorce spill out and over into your relationship with your kids. You might find yourself irritable, snappy and even saying hurtful things. This is a vulnerable time for you as well as your children and it is essential that you deal with it gently and sensitively.

And as a survivor of divorce has also noted:

If, despite your best efforts, you fail at some of the above, some of the time – don’t be too hard on yourself, you are only human after-all! Pick yourself up – get the support you require and try, try again…

So, if you are getting a divorce, have had a divorce, or simply know someone that is going through a divorce – keep the above in mind. They are simple guidelines that can make the world of difference and spare kids unnecessary heartache.

Till next time, remember…

“It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.”
Francois De La Rochefoucauld

P.S. as usual, please feel free to post comments, or questions – or even ideas for future topics!