The MHS Journals

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Coping Strategies for Special Needs Children & Mental Health

Jun 12, 2024

A mother holding their disabled child on a sunny day in a field while they both laugh and playUpdated: June 12, 2024

Caregiver burnout is a real challenge for many parents with children with special needs. Caring for a child with special needs requires constant attention, whether your child has highly specific health needs, developmental disabilities that require ongoing therapies, or a combination of the two. You may spend your life advocating for a child with special needs. Worse, if you have other children in the home, you may constantly worry that those children will fall through the cracks.

The parents and, in some cases, siblings of children with special needs are more likely to suffer from a host of mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Siblings may suffer from higher levels of stress or even resentment related to the chores they’re asked to take on around the house, the need to help care for the disabled sibling, or the things they feel they have to miss out on because of the cost of caring for a disabled sibling.

With all those challenges pressing down on you, how can you cope?

1. Join a Support Group

Join with other parents or siblings of children with special needs. Not only can those support groups give you an excellent opportunity to talk over the frustrations you may find yourself dealing with, but other parents or siblings may also have ideas that can help you meet those challenges more effectively.

2. Work with a Therapist to Support Your Own Mental Health (and the Mental Health of Neurotypical or Non-Disabled Siblings)

Often, a special needs child’s health takes precedence over everyone else in the family. As you continue to juggle ongoing appointments, therapies, medications, and a host of other responsibilities, you may feel that any other appointments or needs must go on the back burner, either for financial reasons or because of the lack of additional hours in the day.

It’s important to carefully consider the needs of every member of the family, especially as it pertains to physical and mental health. Make seeing a therapist a priority for each family member, especially during more difficult or stressful times.

3. Keep Your Core Family Members Informed About the Latest Medical Needs and Procedures of the Special Needs Sibling

Sometimes, parents try to keep their other children in the dark about the medical challenges a sibling with special needs might be facing. However, in the absence of an explanation, children may start to imagine their own outcomes, and they’re often darker than the reality. Children often have very vivid imaginations, and they can imagine many negative scenarios involving a sibling with special needs. Keep your children informed about the latest changes in their sibling’s status so they can set aside those worries.

4. Build Your Village and Sense of Community

When you have a child with special needs, you may quickly learn who you can rely on and trust and who you cannot. Your neurotypical children may discover who their real friends are, who they can trust to be around their sibling, and who they cannot rely on.

Build your village. Reach out to other parents in similar circumstances or whose children may face similar challenges. Lean on the family members you can trust. With a village behind you, you will often feel more confident in dealing with the other challenges you may face.

5. Take Advantage of the Resources Available to You – And Don’t Try to Do It All on Your Own

It’s common for one parent, often the child’s mother, to take on the full responsibility for everything involving a child with special needs. You may feel that you have no other options and that no one else can care for your child the way you do. That’s where your village comes in. Use trustworthy individuals that you can trust to watch your child. Call on family members to help out with your neurotypical children. When burnout starts to rise, ask for help with tasks that anyone can take on for you, including cooking and cleaning.

Furthermore, take advantage of the resources available in your community. Seek out a church with a quality special needs program so that you can attend the service. Take advantage of respite care. Look into the programs available through your school system. You may be surprised by what resources are available and by how much weight it takes off your shoulders.

6. Schedule Time with Your Spouse and Your Other Children.

Plan date nights with your spouse, even when it seems hard to get away. Set specific times to spend time with your other children. It may feel as though your child with special needs always needs you. To reduce burnout, take advantage of the options available to aid in care and spend time with the other members of your family regularly. Not only will it help strengthen your relationship with those family members, but it can also help decrease the risk of caregiver fatigue for all of you.

Parenting a child with special needs is a unique journey. Avoiding caregiver fatigue is an ongoing struggle, especially if you feel isolated from other people around you. With these strategies, you can reduce burnout and improve your overall mental health while continuing to support your child.

MHS Can Help

Many mental health activities can help combat the symptoms of mental health issues. You can sometimes benefit from additional treatment options such as therapy. MHS serves clients throughout the Apple Valley, MN area who seek support and guidance on their mental health journey. We offer dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and other treatment options. Call us at (952) 835-2002 or learn more about us online.

Image Source: NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock