A letter To The Parents Of A Struggling Child

Dear parent,

I know at times you feel so helpless and alone as you watch your child struggle. When we give birth and hear our babies cry for the first time from that moment on we want to help them and make everything right for them.

We don’t want them to be ill.

We don’t want them to be unable to eat.

We don’t want them battling for breath.

We don’t want them in pain.

We don’t want them to be the last to meet milestones.

We don’t want them emotionally or physically or socially struggling.

There is something about watching your child struggle that tears your heart in two. That feeling of uselessness, helplessness, having no control over things. That feeling that you should be the one to fix it all for them, comfort them, make it all better…but you can’t. That feeling of not being able to meet your child’s needs, whether that’s feeding them, holding them, carrying them or teaching them. That feeling of having to accept help for the sake of your struggling child.

I’ve been there too.

I know that feeling of failure well. That gut wrenching feeling as a parent when a nurse, therapist, teacher or doctor is the one that gets your child’s first eye contact or enables your child to say their first word. I understand that feeling of being robbed of something that should have been your privilege, not theirs. I’ve experienced that feeling of despair, the wanting to give up, the inadequacy that comes with having a child who is struggling.

I’ve cried so many tears and I’m sure you have too.

No-one wants to be the parents of the child who isn’t talking when all their peers are. No-one wants to be the parents of the child who has failed their six week check up, two year check up and even their pre-school check up. It’s a kick in the teeth for all the hard work and investment in your child when all they see is still a struggling child.

I know the fights. The fights to prove you are a good parent and your child’s struggles are not due to neglect. The fight to get your child help. The fight to be listened to. The fight for the right educational environment for your child to thrive. The fight for basic equipment to help. The fight for support. The mental fight to get through each day.

I know the fears: for the future, for their education, because they are so vulnerable.

When you are the parent of a struggling child it means you struggle too.

Too many judge.

Too many are ignorant.

Too many refuse to understand.

Too many ignore.

Having a struggling child is lonely. It’s isolating. It’s heartbreaking.

But I also know you are doing everything you can and more. Your determination, courage and strength shines through you. No-one could love, encourage or support your child more than you do.

You’ve got this.

My child struggles too. Their struggles may not be the same ones your child faces but that doesn’t matter. We are still in this together.

Stay strong my friend. There will be better days ahead.

Your child may be struggling but that’s not your fault. Hold your head high and show the world who you are.

You are not a failure for having a struggling child.

You are not to blame.

You are a wonderful parent.

Never ever forget that,

Yours,

A fellow parent of a struggling child.

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My Disabled Child Is Still A Child

Before I had children of my own I genuinely thought parents pretty much stuck together. I mean after all aren’t we all in the same situation struggling with lack of sleep, worrying for our children’s future and tidying up toys every day?

Then I had a disabled child and I discovered that somehow that changes things.

Other parents no longer talk to me about standing on Lego because they assume I won’t relate since my child can’t play with Lego.

Other parents don’t mention all the activities their child does after school and how they feel like a glorified taxi driver taking their kids to dance, swimming and karate. They know my child isn’t able to do these things so they don’t bother to share about them with me.

Other parents don’t message me for advice even if my child is older than theirs because they assume I won’t know anything about normal child development since my child is disabled.

I could go on. I’m sure you get the point though.

There is an assumption by other parents and society in general that my disabled child is somehow not really a child like other people’s. They assume my parenting is nothing like theirs.

So let me tell you something very important: disabled children are still children.

They still have toys.

They still watch TV.

They still try and get away with more time on technology than they should.

They still turn their nose up at sprouts, throw toys in frustration and demand all our time.

They also outgrow clothes and shoes quickly, lose teeth at the same time as other children, go to school and learn, hate homework and catch the cold like other kids.

Yes every single child is unique, every life is different and my child struggles to do many many things other children do naturally (like speaking for example) but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear about your parenting issues nor does it mean I won’t relate.

You might be surprised to know we actually have more in common than you realise.

I have a disabled child. That may mean some parts of parenting are a little different to others but at the core my son is just a child like any other and I am a parent like other parents too.

Please treat me like any other parent. Please see my disabled child as a child just like yours.

We are all in this together and we have much more in common than we both realise.

Oh and my son may not play with Lego but I can still appreciate how sore it is to stand on. You have my sympathy there.

My Severely Autistic Son DOES Have A Bright Future

Six and a half years ago when I took my toddler to a clinic and left with a diagnosis of severe non verbal autism , pica and global developmental delay my heart broke. It didn’t end there either. Six months later he was diagnosed with a progressive genetic condition. A year later he added vision impairment to his list. At seven he added an optic glioma, a form of brain tumour and at nine, epilepsy.

As I write this he is ten, with the developmental age of a one year old, the speech of a nine month old baby (he is non verbal), he isn’t yet potty trained and requires round the clock care. He has to be medicated twice daily to keep major seizures at bay. He needs six monthly MRI tests to monitor his brain tumours.

On paper his future doesn’t look good.

I have spent so much time breaking my heart for my son and all he will miss in life. He likely won’t fall in love, get married, have a family, have a job, learn to drive, attend college or university or live independently; all the things parents expect from their children as they grow. He can’t yet write his name, he’s never attended mainstream education and his care needs are so high I have been his full time carer since he was born.

So given all that information how can I possibly say my son has a bright future?

Quite simply this: Quality of life isn’t determined by what other people think.

I thought my child should find a partner, perhaps have a family of his own, get a job, drive, contribute to society in some way and make a difference. I thought he should go to school, perhaps onto college or university then find happiness and fulfilment in a career of his choice.

But who says any of this is a bright future? Who determines these things as quality of life?

In actual fact my son has an amazing future ahead of him, one very different to how I imagined, but even more incredible!

He’s never going to carry the burden of responsibility so he won’t stress about interest rates, taxes, mortgages or company shares.

He’s never going to become embroiled in complex relationships so won’t experience the heartache of divorce or family breakups.

He will remain blissfully sheltered from many of the awful things that life carries with it like murder, abuse, political turmoil, homelessness, drugs or wars.

His simple life will be the envy of many.

His needs will be met, either by carers or myself, for as long as I live. He has a sister who adores him and who I know will do all she can to make sure he is looked after too.

He will spend his future not in the drudgery and stress of daily commutes to work or long shifts but in doing what he loves most. He’ll be taken swimming, the cinema, cafes, shops, garden centres and day trips. It will be like he’s retired without ever having to have done the fifty plus years employment first.

Clothes and food will be provided for him. Other people will arrange whatever finances are required, drive him or support him in transport and make sure he is happy and well.

His future is, in fact, what so many of us would dream of. He will watch what he wants on TV, explore the world via google street map and see family often.

He will, as he already does, be surrounded by love, respect and support.

I’ll take him to as many lifts as he wants because his years of education will be complete.

I am not deluded. I am not just looking at life from rose tinted glasses. I am fully aware that my son will always need a huge level of care and that I may not always be around to give him that. I, more than anyone, understand how vulnerable and naive he is and always will be. I know i will fight budget cuts, endless complex forms to have control of his finances and health needs and that I will likely get little to no respite when he passes from children’s care teams to adult care teams.

This won’t be easy for ME but for HIM the future is bright.

We are so quick as a society to assume that anyone with learning disabilities, severe autism or complex needs is a burden. We see their quality of life as somehow less because it doesn’t follow the tradition path of higher education, work and raising the next generation. We see their inability to pay taxes as somehow awful and view them as beneath others.

My son, and thousands of others, walk a different path in life. They face a future quite different to that which we see as ‘normal’. Yet their future, their existence, their needs, are not in any way less or second class.

My severely autistic son’s future is full of life, love and fulfilment. That to me is the epitome of a bright future and quality of life.

I am looking forward to it and if he understood what the future was I know he would be excited too.

The Loneliness Of A Special Needs Sibling

It’s just after 6:30pm and her brother has just had a seizure in the bath. While her mum pulls him out and dries him her dad rushes upstairs to help.

And she was left alone.

It’s 11am at the retail park and suddenly her brother has disappeared. Her mum shouts his name and runs to the lift knowing her brother loves them, while her dad runs to the door to make sure her brother hasn’t ran into the car park.

And she was left alone again.

It’s 2:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon and she is with mum and her brother at yet another hospital appointment. Her brother’s height is taken, his weight measured and the eye specialist looks into her brother’s eyes while talking to mum in words she can’t understand.

And it feels like she isn’t there at all, even though she is.

Life feels all about her brother. She can only go places if HE is well enough, if HE can cope with it, if there is provision for disabled children. She hears others at school talk about zoos, trampoline parks and ice-skating rinks but she has never experienced those. She could tell them about tonic clonic seizures, communicating with a non verbal brother or what an occupational therapist does. She knows that isn’t what anyone wants to hear about though.

So she just stays quiet.

She does her own thing. She finds her own way of coping. She is the epitome of resilience, the definition of bravery, the personification of inner strength.

But she’s lonely. So very lonely.

She’s typical of so many siblings lost in the shadows while the limelight shines on the sick sibling, the disabled brother, or the struggling sister.

Expected to carry on with homework while her brother screams, to try and watch TV without complaining while her brother has a meltdown, to still sleep while her brother bangs toys throughout the night because he sees no need for sleep.

These are the siblings whose loneliness we don’t like to see. We don’t like to admit that disability affects the siblings as much, if not more, than the child who is diagnosed. It makes us uncomfortable to think we have caused an innocent child to experience mental pain while we care for the physical pain of another child. We hope beyond hope that things will settle and one day we will ‘make it up to them’ for the times we couldn’t make their school play because their brother was sick or in hospital. But that day never seems to come.

So she just carries on.

Until one day she says ‘it feels like I am invisible sometimes.’

Then you realise the utter loneliness, the repeated rejection she had felt and the fear she experiences daily. You vow to change things but nothing, nothing, will take away her loneliness.

I promise you siblings, you are NOT invisible. You are the real hero’s in all this. You are the ones who’s smile keeps everyone going, whose humour brings life and whose strength inspires.

You may feel lonely but you are never alone.

I promise you so many other siblings understand and they have been where you are.

You got the raw deal here and I’m sorry.

This post first appeared here. Do check out my other blogs on Firefly (www.fireflyfriends.com) and my regular updates and thoughts on my Facebook page (faithmummy).

Blessed with a different child (A caravan holiday in peak season with a disabled 9 year old)

Back home we live in our own world: You go to school in a town far away and I take you to quiet places where few people go, like the park early in the morning or swimming much later after dinner.

Here we can’t do that.

Here it is obvious that I am blessed with a different child.

Caravan parks don’t isolate the disabled children like education does. Caravan parks don’t give you preferential treatment or appointments like the health service does. Caravan park restaurants won’t let you order mashed potato for breakfast like I make you at home. Here you are the same, but different. A bit like the caravans which on the surface all seem similar yet every single one is different.

When we arrive and unpack those around see I am blessed with a different child even before I park the car. There you sit in the back flapping with excitement and chewing on the nose of your cuddly toy. It’s not something 9 year olds do really and you look…odd.

I forget that others see you and stare. It makes me uncomfortable and reminds me why I don’t take you out as often as I should.

Is taking a disabled child to a busy caravan park in the summer holidays the right thing to do?

I think it is.

I take you to the on-site pool. Other 9 year olds are swimming unaided, playing with friends, drying and dressing themselves and doing hand stands in the water. You are lead by the hand by your mum, still using swimming nappies and a rubber ring and you giggle just sitting at the side dipping your feet in the shallow toddler splash pool. You are every bit as happy as all the other children, just in a different way.

I watch you and smile. Being blessed with a different child has taught me to enjoy your happiness every single day. As I look about I notice a life guard watching and smiling. Your different-ness has made them smile too.

I take you to the busy park. Other parents sit nearby chatting and drinking. I am lifting your legs, guiding you to the steps each time, and encouraging you down the smallest of slides so that children 7 years younger than you can take their turn. You make happy baby noises and wave your hands with excitement. Some parents move their children away, some children leave of their own decision but some carry on regardless. I am not embarrassed by my child but I am embarrassed at how others respond to him.

What’s so bad about seeing someone blessed with a different child?

Being in a busy caravan park with a child who is noticeably different to his peers has made me realise something:

My child is not the issue, the issue is how others respond.

I have not helped my son or my community by going to places others don’t. So from now on I promise to change that.

I am blessed with a different child and I won’t hide that anymore. If he wants to swim at peak times that’s where I will take him. If the park is busy what have I got to be afraid of?

I’m done with the isolation. If I can cope with a busy caravan park in summer season with a nine year old who can’t dress himself, can’t speak, can’t jump and still eats with his fingers then I can do the same back home. If he has a seizure in public so what? If he has a meltdown why should I apologise? He is a child just like any other child. He is beautiful, funny, full of mischief and entitled to play just like any other child.

I thought I was making things easier for my son by protecting him from comments and stares but in reality I have made both more likely because children like my son need to be seen more to be accepted more.

I am blessed with a different child and it’s about time the world saw a lot more of him!

I’m so glad I took him to a busy caravan park in the height of summer season. It gave me confidence and delight to be the one blessed with the different child.