Relationship Stress of Parents of Special Needs children

Over the past 6 years I have been providing family therapy services for various different families. A major trend which I have noticed is the lack of supportive services for Couples who are parents of special needs children. Typically these families have higher financial burdens, more difficulties with effective parenting strategies, as well as feelings of isolation.

First of all, let me say these families love their kids! These parents put every aspect of their life secondary to their children. Parents of special needs children are some of the most dedicated, steadfast, heartwarming people who walk this earth. But in the same respect, many of the report feeling extremely overwhelmed and stressed. With that stress comes marital distress, struggles with intimacy, as well as frequent arguments and irritably. You are not alone.

At times, these parents experience embarrassment by their struggle but feel the strength of their advocacy for their children. During a recent conversation while providing family therapy, a mother once said “I feel like no one else experiences this,” my response was “Believe it not, that is not true.” The isolation comes from protecting the family from the judgment of others who do not understand.

Other families can make simple plans and whimsically go out or do different activities. A trip out for a few hours is a simple as obtaining a babysitter and going out to dinner with your husband. Or “We can drop the kids off at my mothers and go away for a few days.” Conveniences are virtually impossible for many parents of children with special needs.

The most basic task like planning a food shopping trip can feel like planning the climb Mount Everest. “Let’s give my mother a call and see if she can watch Johnny for 2 hours so we can go to the store;” because it can be virtually impossible for find a babysitter for a special needs child. “We have to make sure that all of the emergency numbers out, his medicines are in clear view just in case there is an emergency, and we also need to make sure that Johnny’s favorite toys are available so that he will be occupied long enough.” “When my mother comes we need to review the redirection and de-escalation strategy with just in case he becomes agitated.” “Also we need to make sure that PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) book is out so if he needs to ask for something he can, we should also let my mother know things he seems to have been asking for lately so she is aware.” And when Grandma comes, the parents update her on recent progress and Johnny has made and what requests he has been making in his PECS book. Then the parents quickly get in the car and head to the store and have a conversation about how one of them should have stayed behind.

Then once in the store, and waiting on line at the checkout counter their cellular phone rings. Grandma “Everything is ok but……” At this point a parents heart rate shoots up, their palms sweat, and a giant lump forms in their throat. Parent responds “What’s going on?” Grandma reported “Johnny decided to leave the house when I went to the bathroom. I found him a block away and everything is fine now but I wanted to let you just in case you heard it from one of the neighbors.” At this point the parent struggles not to leave the shopping cart in the middle of the checkout line and go home. On the car ride home “I knew one of us should have stayed home.”

This example is a generalization but a realistic scenario of how a life a parent with a special needs child and a typical child may differ. These stressors effect a parent’s quality of live, their finances, as well as their livelihood, and ability to work. All of these stressors compound and put a strain on a couple’s relationship. It is important to know that you are not alone, and we can help.

Contact the Success Source about the Burnout Prevention Groups and individualized services for Parents of Special Needs Children

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