One of the biggest challenges special needs parents face is trying to unravel the complex issues associated with our children. Sometimes it’s asking, “Why won’t he eat?” to “Why is she so anxious during social events?” Parents like my husband and I not only have to deal with issues such as these but we are also trying to understand everything associated with him medically. All these things intertwine like a complex web and pulling at any part of this web will no doubt effect something else.
For example, my one of my son’s diagnoses is epilepsy and when his seizures become poorly controlled, we have to decide the next step in management. Most of the time we choose to increase the dosage of his current medication before trying another medicine or approach. We also know his behavior is directly effected by how much medication he is taking as he has been known to have a low tolerance for anti-epileptics at high doses. This has made finding the right therapy for seizure control challenging. We want control but we also don’t want to see him overly aggressive and causing harm to himself or others.
A few years ago he started a new medication to treat his primary diagnosis, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). The medication is normally used to treat cancer but it has been found to be a promising drug to treat TSC. A year after starting this medication, he was seizure free but he also stopped eating. Feeding issues were not new to him but giving up eating was and we became concerned. After asking adults on the same medication, speaking to his clinic and a nutritionist, we have a better understanding of how the medication may be effecting him and a plan to help him get the nutrition he needs, but we still don’t fully understand how to unravel this complex issue. He could be refusing to eat because of his autism, medication, or behavioral issues. We also realize that we could be partly to blame for his finicky eating habits.
These two examples are not the only ones I could list but they are the issues that have caused the most conflict in our lives. It is particularly difficult for us to pull our son apart from his problematic issues and fully understand how to manage them, so trying to explain it to others is almost impossible.
I know my husband and I are not the only parents who are exhausted by the questions and unwanted advice over subjects we are trying to understand ourselves. We started our son in early intervention at four months of age. I have worked with therapist for years discussing his different habits and behavioral issues. We have spoke to his team of doctors, nurses, psychiatrist, nutritionist, and many more to try to give us the best chance of helping him live the fullest life possible. After seven years, there are many questions that we still cannot answer. There are many questions that don’t have answers. I want to share a few insights to what it feels like for special needs parents when conflicts arise over our child’s issues.
1: Unwarranted parenting advice makes us feel like we haven’t done enough for our children.
Although we have spent years with professionals to try to help our child work through various problems, there is no magic fix. There will still be times when he will have a meltdown, inflict harm on himself or others, and many other things we’d rather not see. This does not grant anyone the right to offer advice when it isn’t needed. The truth is, we don’t like seeing our children struggle either. That’s why we have been working very hard to help our children. Don’t forget that they are often struggling in ways we don’t understand. If you haven’t been working just as hard at helping, then stop the unwarranted advice.
2: Dictating to us about what you think our child should or should not do causes unwanted stress.
We have been there. There is a party and all the kids are lined up, ready to play a game and someone says, “Everyone plays, even (insert our child’s name here)”. We have even been told we HAVE to sing The Happy Birthday song to our son even though it causes him anxiety and will set off a meltdown. We do want to help our child test his boundaries but we are also well aware of those boundaries. We certainly don’t appreciate someone else making assumptions about what our child can or will do. If we choose for him not to participate, we have a good reason and if that isn’t good enough, prepare to get what you have asked for, anxiety from our child or a stern “no” from us. Asking before assuming is always the best approach.
3: Pointing out our child’s flaws is very upsetting.
I don’t understand why others feel the need to point out our child’s issues, like we are blind to them. We are obviously aware of these things, it is OUR child. Instead, try acknowledging the good things our child is trying to do.
4: Fixing our child for us undermines our parenting.
Trying to “fix” things, especially without our consent is not welcome. If we don’t offer our child fruit at the dinner table, we don’t want anyone else to either. If our child hasn’t had a haircut for a while, there is probably a reason for it. Don’t try to save the day with these “fixes.” We are not neglecting our child when we choose not to do or offer things that others may feel he needs. Sensory issues are usually behind the anxiety he feels over getting a haircut or being offered a new food (with a new look or texture) so unless you are a expert on sensory or anxiety issues associated with autism, please stop. The best thing to do is ask, “How can I help?”
5: Ignoring requests associated with our child will indeed causes friction in our relationships.
My late grandfather meant well when he would ask my son if his food was “good” every time my son sat at the table with him. My son’s response to the question was always the same, he’d scream and hit himself. This never stopped my grandfather, he’d keep asking. This caused us a lot of anxiety because even getting our son to the table was an accomplishment. Mealtime is usually the biggest cause of anxiety for our son. It takes a lot of effort to get him to sit at the table for a meal and getting him to eat is an even bigger deal. After all the work involved, it would be undone with the same question from my grandfather, “Is that good?” Ignoring the obvious friction the question caused made mealtime a problem for all of us.
Sometimes an innocent question or action could cause anxiety for our child, so we ask our requests regarding our child be respected. Don’t be the reason for additional stress.
The bottom line is this; we need the support of those around us. We understand it’s hard for those who love our child to feel helpless because they want to help. The truth is, we feel helpless too but we are doing our best despite the fact that we don’t have all the answers. We want to be trusted to know what is best for our children. When we all work together, we have the best chance at helping these wonderful children have a happy future.