I had a message from a fellow special needs parent this week. Two words of that message have impacted on me greatly. She wrote:
It is so common for me to hear this. It is the centre piece of every support group, the most common theme on online forums, 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.
In my years as a special needs parent I have found there is a secret epidemic affecting so many special needs parents and it needs talked about: We need to talk about depression.
Depression in the special needs mum or dad is so understandable but too often goes unnoticed.
People see a mum crying and think she is having a bad day. What they don’t know about is all the other nights she cried in private and no-one knew.
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 recognise that feeling of failure when you realise your child is just not developing as they should. I know the pain of taking your child to hospital when they should be outside playing with friends.
It is isolating when your child has special needs and it is ok 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 so little hope.
When you have a child who struggles in school everyday, a child who won’t eat, or has no friends, or is being bullied for being different, or who can not play in a park as the equipment is unsuitable for their needs, how would you feel? If you child was denied the support they need, or could not communicate, or is living in pain every day would you not be heartbroken?
Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of depression among parents of children with autism?
While so many are on medication, and this is vital, we also as a society need to recognise that special needs parenting is exhausting and draining.
Medication is wonderful but what about better support and understanding for our children, better care for those in society who are full time carers, 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 autism families is concerning but what worries me more is that continual budget cuts and ignorance in society is breeding not only depression among the parents but sadly I am now seeing siblings, and even special needs children themselves, struggling with the same issues.
We need to recognise this epidemic and do something about it now.
Don’t ever be afraid to tell someone you a real struggling. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Together we can support each other and help make a better future for us and our children.
This post first appeared here.