2003 was a rough year for me. That January, we were living in a new area, away from most of my family. My husband worked long days far from home, and we had no friends or neighbors in our new neighborhood. Into this scenario, my first child was born: Amelia, a beautiful little spirit who we later learned had a form of Down syndrome called Mosaicism. She was an angel baby, rarely crying, never fussing, and she slept 6 hours or more at night, from 4 weeks on. While I should have been ecstatic, at the time I felt like Down syndrome was a life sentence, and I worried greatly her future and her health. I spiraled into depression for a long period – 8 months, at least – crying every night after she went to bed. The day I got her diagnosis, I was holding and I broke down…and so did she. This was her first real cry and it was my fault. I made a commitment then and there not to break down in front of her again.
Thanks to that commitment and LOTS of prayer from my loved ones, I made it out of depression. It’s hard to stay sad when a beautiful little girl smiles, laughs, and jumps up when you enter her room in the morning. It’s hard to focus on despair when your child is full of wonder at the world, and giggles at the slightest thing. I was lucky.
However, I’m well aware that many people are not so lucky. Having a child with special needs can be a lonely, daunting and painful experience. I remember sitting alone in my house wondering why none of my family or friends had a single child with any kind of disability. I grew angry at the voices that told me I was “chosen” and it was a gift. What kind of choice was that? How could this be a gift? Even years later, I had a hard time with friends who had typical children. They didn’t understand why their advice would not work in my child’s life, and I was too tired to keep explaining it.
I turned to blogging about my parenting journey, and in the blogosphere, I found a world of people who had kids with disabilities. I started reaching out, commenting, chatting, and making friends. I wasn’t alone anymore! It lifted my spirits to know that other parents had similar hopes and struggles raising their disabled children. Not only that, but there were resources, advice, and ideas that I had not thought of trying to help me through. I had found my tribe.
If you have a child with any kind of physical, learning, developmental, or medical disability, it’s critical for you to find support and kinship from parents who are going through the same things. It’s great if you find parents raising kids with similar disabilities, but if you are at least dealing with the common issues, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone. What are some ways you can find communities of other special needs parents?
All these resources can (and will) overlap. You’ll find something online that happens to be headquartered near you, or you’ll reach out to a service provider that sends you to a specialty online group just for your child’s disability.
The challenges of being a special needs parents can be tough, but they shouldn’t be faced alone. Get out there and get yourself resources and support to help make it through. These resources have helped me become a stronger, calmer, and better parent, and have made me friendships I know will last a lifetime. You are not alone!