Taking care of a special needs child isn’t an easy thing to do. Here are some of the most common challenges parents face and how to tackle each one effectively.
When you are the parent of a special needs child, you assume the role of caregiver without a second thought. However, do you really know what it takes to look after a special needs child and what you need to do so he receives the very best from you?
When you take on the role of caregiver, bear in mind that every day will be a new day of learning. However, what you can do is to try your best to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Here are a few points you should take note of:
- You will be spending a significant amount of time and energy with your child who has special needs.
- Your time with other family members may be limited
- Make an effort to spend some alone time with your other children and spouse.
- Couples who have children with special needs may face a certain amount of pressure in their marriage. Remember that a marriage is about teamwork, so work together to build a strong marriage.
Here are some suggestions on how you can give your best as a caregiver.
Health is your priority
It is only natural that you put the needs of your child ahead of your own. However, as a caregiver, you should keep in mind that your health should not be disregarded. Taking care of yourself is in fact, as important as taking care of your special needs child. After all, you will only be able to provide the best for your child when you are in good shape — both physically and mentally. In the midst of your busy schedule, be sure to eat well, stick to regular meal times, stay hydrated, have a positive mindset and get enough sleep.
To work or not to work?
What about work? Will you need to give up your career? This question may arise especially if your child struggles with medical issues that require constant attention. There are several factors which you should take into account when making this important decision.
You can begin exploring your options by asking yourself two questions: “Am I the sole breadwinner of my family?” and “Is there a possible alternative to my work schedule?” If you are the sole breadwinner, you will need to seriously consider asking others, such as your child’s grandparents, to help you look after your little one until you can find other sources of income. As for the second question, consider speaking to your employer about flexible scheduling options then discuss these options with your spouse to ensure that the decision you make will benefit everyone in your family.
‘Till death do us part
Having a special needs child is not your fault nor is it your spouse’s. When you take care of a special needs child, it is important for you and your spouse to work together as a team. Then, you are able to overcome difficult times together as well as enjoy the good times.
Spend some time alone together. Go out on a date night, express appreciation to each other, be the shoulder to cry on and make time every day to talk to your spouse as this allows you to voice concerns and worries. Although these are simple measures, they are easily forgotten especially when you’re juggling multiple responsibilities.
We are family
As a caregiver, most of your time will be devoted to your special needs child and you may be worried that you’re not spending enough time with your other children. It may be challenging but it is certainly not impossible to ensure that the needs of your other children are fulfilled too.
Some good habits you can practice include setting aside time for your other children to speak to you, being on the look out for a change in behaviour and spending time with them doing the things they love like playing board games or watching a fun movie.
Being a caregiver of a special needs child comes with unique challenging as well as memorable times. Aim to be physically, mentally prepared so you can provide your child with an environment that is filled with love and support.
Urban Health speaks to Pek Think, Yvonne, Kelly and Janet who are mothers of special needs children. They share the unvarnished truth about looking after their kids.
1. UH: Are you a working mom? How do you juggle your daily responsibilities?
Janet: Yes, I’m a working mother but I no longer need to pop into the office unless necessary. My daily routine revolves around my son’s schedule. I’ll send him to school, therapy, doctor’s appointments, assessments and play group sessions. Occasionally I’ll stop at the mall or a nearby grocer to do my grocery shopping and to give my son the opportunity to spend time outdoors. At night, after tucking him in bed, I’ll do my work and read online to know more about my son’s health.
Yvonne: No, I stopped working when my son was three-years-old because I realised that even with all the help and support I was getting from my parents and in-laws, it was not enough. Now, I’m largely dependent on my helper who takes care of my son if I’m doing something with my two other children like driving them to their various appointments and activities.
2. UH: As a caregiver, how do you ensure that your health is at its best?
Pek Think: For physical health, I eat healthy foods, exercise, go for my medical check-ups and try to get enough of sleep. Getting a good night’s rest can be really hard to achieve! As for mental health, I belong to support groups and I’m friends with parents who are in the same boat as I am.
Janet: Honestly, I don’t. My hands are full as I’m also a caregiver to my elderly mother-in-law. I basically ensure that both my son and mother-in-law are well so that I do not have to worry about sending them to the hospital every week or so. One thing I’m conscious about is eating plenty of vegetables and avoiding unhealthy cooking methods.
3. UH: When you feel under the weather, what do you do?
Kelly: When I’m feeling unwell, I get help from my husband to look after my child while I rest and recover.
Pek Think: Things can get really complicated if you fall ill so if your situation permits, don’t be the sole caregiver. Try to have support from family members or helpers.
Yvonne: I’m blessed with a very strong family support system. When I’m not well, we go to my parents’ place where they can help out with the kids while I recover.
Janet: I suffered from severe health problems which left me immobile and bedridden. I’m on medication now which helps me to go about my daily tasks. I’m thankful to have found a very compassionate and caring full-time nanny who helps me out.
4. What are some of the common challenges that you face?
Kelly: When my child is unwell, he tends to vomit very often — even while he is asleep. So, I’ll have to be alert at all times.
Janet: Finding a disabled parking spot is a terrible task! They’re often taken by able drivers or designated for disabled drivers and not passengers. My son is also turning eight this year and he will be turned away from his current Early Intervention Program. I’m not sure what I’m going to do…
5. UH: What is your advice for other caregivers?
Yvonne: We need to realise the importance of rest. To achieve rest, we need to depend on support systems, such as grandparents, so we have time for ourselves.
Janet: Always have the phone number of your best friend — who understands your situation— handy. She can offer assistance and you can call her if you need to let it out and cry.
Kelly: Relax your mind, think positive and enjoy life.
Pek Think: Take things one step at a time. Learn to stop and smell the roses. Trust in God.