Finding out that your child has additional needs can bring about a whole array of emotions. Getting a diagnosis might take some time – according to the Genetic Alliance UK, about 50% of children with a learning disability don't have a definitive diagnosis. Parents may worry or feel guilty that their child has a disability, but it is important to remember that it is rarely anyone’s 'fault'.
Whether you have a diagnosis for your child, or are waiting for one, it is likely that dealing with the practicalities of everyday life can seem to bring a lot of new stress into your life. Parents of disabled children often describe a constant battle for services and feeling unable to cope, dealing with professionals and the thoughts and opinions of friends and family. It’s natural for all parents to feel overwhelmed at times, but when you have a disabled child simple things like a trip to the supermarket can be fraught with anxiety, and getting your child out of the house can mean packing extra equipment or planning for bathroom or feeding breaks.
While you may not be able to make stress go away completely, it’s worth learning some tips to manage it. This will help stop it spilling over to your relationship with your partner and other children (if you have them).
Sharing your worries with your partner can create a sense of solidarity and togetherness, reminding you that you’re not alone and giving you strength to cope with the challenges you face :
Supporting each other helps you maintain your relationship during stressful times, making it easier to reduce stress and cope with negative emotions . Approaching things as a couple, rather than as an individual, increases your capacity to deal with stress .
If your partner is feeling stressed, you may need to step up and offer support. As an example, let’s take one of the big worries for parents of disabled children – money. Your situation may have changed dramatically since the birth of your child. Perhaps one of you has had to take on extra shifts to make ends meet while the other has stopped working to take on childcare. This can put a big strain on both of you.
When your partner hits a bump in the road, it’s easy to become affected yourself or to shut the stress out, but you can help your partner cope by engaging and responding positively :
Many parents tell us that the best support and advice comes from other parents. There may be a local support group where you and other parent carers can share experiences and support each other. Parents describe meeting other parents of disabled children as a huge relief, finding out they’re not alone. Local support groups are also great way to find out what is happening in your area and get tips from other parents about local services. To find a support group near you, try the Contact helpline on freephone 0808 808 3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It can also be helpful to know that you have a right to taking a break from caring for your child. Short breaks allow you to spend time either with your other children or alone, so you can recharge your batteries, catch up on sleep, do vital jobs, and spend time with your partner. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness or being a bad parent. Spending time away from your disabled child can also help foster a sense of independence in your child. This is particularly helpful for them as they grow up. You can find out how to go about getting a much-needed break on the Contact website.
We all go through times of relative calm, and changes and challenges. If you feel you’re experiencing overwhelming stress it’s important to reach out to others for support – either a local voluntary organisation you’re in contact with, friends and family or your GP. Take advantage of all the support available.
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