Having a child with special needs is one of the most tiring and trying job in the world. There are lots of different types of special needs children. There are those that may have down syndrome or autistic or something like that, there are hundreds of thousands of different diagnosis. Then there are the children with mood disorders or mental illness, which is what I deal with. My kids may look like every other kid on the block, but they are far from. They don’t have physical characteristics that make them stand out compared to their peers. My house is always tense and my kids make me walk on egg shells. I’m worried when I say they can’t have another cookie or it’s time to get off the Xbox. I don’t know if they will easily say, “okay, I understand” or if it will be an all-out, drag out war. It is normally the latter.
Living in a house with a child that suffers from mental illness is like being in an abusive relationship that you can’t get out of. I’ve been in those types of relationships in the past and was able to gather my things and leave…but I can’t leave my child. I can’t give up on my child. I can’t turn my back on them.
I try to not get my friends involved in any of the drama within my house because, well, they just don’t understand. Without being there, it’s hard to understand the level of intensity. It’s hard to understand that giving my daughter a simple time out won’t work. When I do open up to my friends, most don’t know what to say or say they wish they could help, but don’t know what they could do.
By no means are these going to work for everyone and I don’t want to be the voice for all parents of special needs children, but these are some ideas that *I* think would work best for me. Here’s some ideas on things you can do for your friends that deal with a special needs child:
- Be there to listen. Sometimes just lending a listening ear, (without judgement, without offering advice) to allow your friend to just vent some frustration. Letting it out and crying to a friend can make a big difference on some of those really hard days.
- Offer to watch the kid(s) for a bit. Dealing with a special needs child takes every ounce of strength when it’s day in and day out. Offering to watch the kids while she goes to the store or just walk at the park is a great way to help her keep her sanity. I’ve had days where I’ve been screamed at or had things thrown at me all day long. a few minutes away can help keep me from losing my mind. Don’t get me wrong…most days I wouldn’t accept someone’s offer to watch the kids, because I’m scared. I’m scared someone else would have to deal with what I do on a daily basis…but knowing the offer is there makes me feel good.
- Avoid talking about your child’s accomplishments. Kids with special needs may not be on the same level academically, physically or socially as their peers. Hearing about how your child is so much better in school or a sport can just be pouring salt in the wound. We all want the best for our kids and want them to be successful, so hearing that your child isn’t as good as someone else’s can hurt, especially when you know that they could do better if it weren’t for their disability.
- Check in often just to see how they are doing. I have friends I rarely talk to, but getting a Facebook message asking how things are going can really make my day. Knowing that she’s thinking of me and my struggles can really help give me the support I need. A quick text or message checking in lets me know that you’ve thought about me and realize that what I’m dealing with isn’t all that easy.
- Stop with the optimism. Things aren’t getting better. They haven’t been getting better and being told over and over that everything will be okay and to be strong doesn’t do anything but make me want to cry. When my daughter is screaming at me and hitting me out of anger, telling me to be strong isn’t help. I have to be strong to be finding her help. You telling me to be strong makes me feel like I’m not doing enough already…and I don’t know how much more I can do.
- Don’t compare your kids to mine. Saying that your kid is being a brat and threw the biggest fit isn’t the same as what I’m going through. Trying to relate by saying that your child’s temper tantrum is the same as fits that last for hours on end and become extremely violent does not compare. I’m sorry you’re frustrated, but taking away toys or doing times out might work for your kid, they won’t work for mine.
- Talk to me about other things. Sometimes, no matter how hard it is, I need to talk about other things. I know you want to try and support me, but sometimes if you help me forget about it for even a few minutes, I’ll feel better. There are other things I’m interested in and would like to focus on.
- Pamper me. Okay, I’m not saying I want a night out on the town (even though that would be amazing)….but sometimes a little gesture of flowers or something would mean the world. I had a REALLY hard week not long ago and I would have just died if I had been surprised with something like, like a flower or even a drink. Bring me some Starbucks when you come and it could mean so much. As I said above, having a child with this illness feels like an abusive relationship. Sometimes a little extra care and letting me know you thought about me can mean a lot.
- Visit me. Yep, that’s it. Just come over and spend some time. When I have visitors over, my kids don’t normally act up (as much). Seeing my children act like *normal* kids and playing is so refreshing….plus I get some adult time.
- Don’t be scared to ask questions. My friends seem timid to ask me about the disorders, medications or therapy. I’m not afraid to talk about it and I like sharing information. You never know if this information could help someone else down the road. Get educated and find out what it’s really like to deal with a child like this. I like sharing information and sometimes it makes me feel better to talk about it and realize that we have come a long way from our first doctor visits. Some days it feels like we haven’t learned anything and made no improvements, but when I think back…we’ve learned SO much and are learning more every day.
I’m not saying this is what everyone thinks….but it works for me. It’s what would make me feel better or what I want/need my friends to do to help me from completely losing it.
For those with experience dealing with special needs children, do you agree?