Stress and Anxiety in Parents of Children Special Additional Needs
A personal story
As a mother of a cochlear implanted young adult, I can look back and remember the many times when my emotional and mental health was put to the test. My experiences with regards to my son’s special additional needs and my own struggle with stress lead me to study psychology. I now work as a counsellor and hypnotherapist working with people suffering from anxiety and other conditions. I am writing this article during “mental health awareness week” which got me thinking that parents of children with additional needs don’t often get the psychological support they may need.
My son is now 26 years old and he has turned out to be a capable and happy young man in spite of all the issues and difficulties he had along the way, from his birth onwards. Life with him (he still lives at home) is settled and pleasant, therefore, sometimes it is easy to forget the tough times that we went through. Parenthood is a tough business for both parents and as a mum, I did not have great misconceptions that motherhood would be a bed or roses. However, I had no idea how challenging it would be to be the mother of a profoundly deaf child with “unspecified difficulties”.
People on learning about my son’s deafness would often comment” oh…, it must have been a terrible shock for you when he was diagnosed”. Well, no, it wasn’t because from the moment he was born, I knew something was not quite right. The diagnosis confirmed my feeling, and it demonstrated that I was not an overanxious mother. In fact, the diagnosis was a relief because deafness is not an illness, and I still feel the same way. People also used to comment: “..it must be so hard dealing with a deaf child”, to which I used to answer “..dealing with the child is easy, dealing with the educational authorities, the hospital administrators, the incompetent teachers in unsuitable hearing impair units, the endless medical appointments etc. that is the hard part”.
From an emotional point of view, in the beginning, I had an overwhelming sense of guilt. After all, my body had let my son down. Although I had plenty of support from my husband and family, the responsibility also weighed heavily on my shoulders. I realised that it was up to me to find the right help and resources for him. I dedicated myself almost entirely to find out what was wrong with him on top of his deafness. I will not go into all the details of our slow and challenging journey of discovery and the ensuing battles, as it would take a much bigger article. I just want to mention that in the process, I forgot myself and my own needs. I become the mother of a complicated deaf child in constant battle. Had not been for the continuous support of my family, I would have had a break down more than once.
With hindsight, I think I could have done with emotional and mental support. We had the support of teachers of the deaf, speech therapists, community paediatricians, audiologist, the cochlear implant team at the hospital, etc… However, none of it addressed the emotional needs of the parents and the siblings. The only place where you felt fully understood was with other parents. From that point of view, The Cochlear Implanted Children Society (CICS) which is run by parents for parents was absolutely invaluable for us.
Advice for parents
Having gone through my experiences as a parent, and now working as a therapist in the field of mental health, my advice to other parents in similar situations is:
- Be easy on yourself, it is not your fault.
- Practice self-care because if you don’t, you risk exhaustion to the point of break down. If that happens, you are not able to help anyone.
- Ask for help when needed and for some respite if possible.
- Use mindfulness, yoga, meditation, exercise etc. to improve your health and keep your sanity.
- If you are suffering from anxiety, seek help and explore ways to reducing the anxiety that includes energy therapy such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy).
- Consider the perception that other siblings may have regarding all the time and effort that is dedicated to the deaf child and how to compensate for that. Avoid later resentments.
- Remember, sometimes things are hard because raising children is hard, and it has nothing to do with the deafness or developmental issues.
- Consider going to a counsellor to be able to express and deal with your emotions, not because there is something wrong with you but as a form of emotional and mental maintenance.
- Know that the time and effort that you put into doing the best you can in the early years pays high dividends later on.
If you are a parent struggling, whether your child has additional needs or not, contact me to discuss how I could help.