When you are raising a child with special needs or physical disabilities, often your focus will be on the many challenges and the hurdles you are currently facing. For example: How will I handle the next IEP meeting? What’s next in terms of doctors, medication, and therapy? How much will it all cost and when will we find the time to deal with insurance and getting reimbursed? These things can become almost your singular focus.
It’s natural that the challenges our families must address will appear all-consuming. But I have a new goal, both for my mental health and for my son’s well-being. I have been working on looking beyond the challenges and reminding myself to acknowledge the victories, too. Kids can be quite observant, especially about where we focus our attention and our moods, and they can pick up on our frustrations and negative energy. If that’s the prevailing mood (one of negativity and frustration) I expect that is likely to transfer right to our children, or to any kid around that consistently.
So, what exactly am I doing? First, this means doing my best to remember and celebrate the wins along the challenging road. My son has consistent, committed physical therapists who care about him and want to see him make gains. Even if his progress is measured in smaller steps, rather than leaps and bounds, he’s progressing and we’re fortunate to have local access to good pediatric PT. He bounced back remarkably quickly from neurosurgery two years ago and it has enabled improvements in his flexibility and mobility. And he doesn’t appear to have any serious scars from the experience, aside from a small scar line on his back. He gets to participate in almost any activities that interest him, even if he’s a little behind, and we don’t feel the need to restrict him for safety reasons. These are some of the more notable wins along the way since his diagnosis, and they are well worth remembering.
Second, I’m paying attention and appreciating how he’s meeting new challenges he’s encountering as he gets a little older and is in school full time. For example, he started two months ago at a new school, one with a remarkably different environment and curriculum and longer hours than his previous school. But he has not been complaining or demonstrating any significant anxiety at these changes. And, while he’s still adjusting, he appears to be taking well to his new school and making some new friends. We’ve been praising him along the way, too, especially when he shares good news and demonstrates some accomplishments.
He naturally has his share of struggles but through all of this, and perhaps most importantly, we are seeing signs that he is a resilient kid. Perhaps some aspects of resilience are hard-wired – some of us may just be innately more resilient than others. But I also think that resilience can be developed and fostered in a person. The challenges he takes on and overcomes in physical therapy are likely part of his developing resilience. Also, his retelling of kids at his new school asking about his brace, but doing so without getting upset or emotional about it. And the fact that he’s always game for all the medical appointments, and occasionally medical procedures, without massive protests or refusals. Resilience is an important thing for just about any kid, but its value may be even greater for our children dealing with physical and other challenges. Resilience can be a self-worth-sustaining well that can be drawn from their entire lives, if it’s developed and nurtured.
For those families raising kids with special needs and/or disabilities, I think it’s helpful to remember that, first and foremost, we’re raising children. Of course, our circumstances are unique and more challenging, in ways that are taxing on our emotions, energy, and finances. Despite that, we can still strive not to let those hard realities take over and become bigger in our minds than our overall efforts to be good parents. Whether it’s resilience you’re looking to instill, or a positive mindset in general, children who are overcoming challenges may benefit even more than typical kids from parents who inspire them to have a positive perspective. While this can be a very tall order, I’m committing myself to staying positive and promoting his resilience throughout this challenging journey. While we often cannot improve the diagnosis, we can certainly improve our perspective and the filter through which our children see their diagnosis. That’s my ongoing goal.
– CP Dad