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I’m Struggling… The Secret Epidemic

Depression in the mom or dad of a child with special needs is so understandable, but too often goes unnoticed.

By Miriam Gwynne

I had a message from a fellow parent this week. Two words of that message  impacted me greatly. She wrote: “I’m struggling.”

It is the centrepiece of every support group, the most common theme on online forums for parents of children with special needs, and the single most heard words when I meet up with people. For some of those parents, it is so bad that I encourage them to see a doctor for support, which often comes in the form of medication.

In my years as a fellow parent of children with special needs, I have found that there is a secret epidemic affecting so many parents of such kids: Depression. And it needs to be talked about.

We need to talk
Depression in the mom or dad of a child with special needs is so understandable, but too often goes unnoticed. People see a mum crying and think she’s having a bad day. What they don’t know about is all the other nights she cries in private. My eyes are more tuned to see people struggling since I have walked that path. I know what it is like to look at my child and worry for his future.

I know what it is like to feel there is no hope
I recognize the feeling of failure when you realize your child is just not developing as they should. I know the pain of taking your child to the hospital when they should be outside playing with friends. It is isolating when your child is disabled or has special needs, and it is okay to admit that.

Society sadly expects us to be positive, upbeat and encouraging, and often I see parents who are so emotionally overwhelmed, so sleep deprived, so beaten down by the system that they have little hope. If you had a child who struggles in school every day, a child who won’t eat, has no friends, is being bullied for being different or who cannot play in a park as the equipment is unsuitable for their needs, how would you feel? If your child was denied the support they need or could not communicate or was living in pain every day, you’d likely be struggling as well.

Would you not be heartbroken?
Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of depression among parents of children with additional needs? While so many are on medication (and this is vital) we also, as a society, need to recognize that parenting children with special needs is exhausting and draining. Medication is wonderful, but what about better support and understanding for our children’s needs, more care for those in society who are full-time caregivers, additional training for staff so they can better meet the needs of the most vulnerable and a society less prone to judge and quicker to encourage?

The current epidemic of depression among the families of children with special needs is concerning. But what worries me more is that continual budget cuts are not only causing depression among parents, but also sadly leading to siblings, and even children with special needs themselves, struggling with the same issues.

We need to recognize and do something—now!
Don’t ever be afraid to tell someone you are really struggling. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Together, we can support each other and help make a better future for ourselves and our children.

Reprinted with permission from Firefly Community.

Miriam Graham is a full-time carer and mum of twins. Both have autism and one, her son, also has a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, global delay and learning difficulties, and is non-verbal.

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