Cheryl Gingerelli MA, LMHCA
Parent to Parent
As a parent of a young man with special needs and learning differences, I know the journey can be overwhelming and confusing; finding real support can be daunting. At times, one can feel very alone. I remember asking for help and support as a parent and being told to “go online because there is so much help out there!” I did–many times–only to feel like a tiny fish in a vast sea looking for someone who could relate and take the time to listen.
Well-meaning friends and family often overlooked my feelings and fears, trying to make me feel better or looked at my son and me with pity which frustrated us both. I remember navigating through specialists trying to find answers, searching for suitable educators, and sometimes feeling the need to explain my child’s actions and emotions when those around us questioned my parenting or my child’s behavior.
There is much more to my story; today, my son is a young adult. We are still learning and adapting with each new year. However, I will tell you that you can get through it, and you can begin to see your child and your experience with new eyes. I have learned so much from my son; he has made life richer and never boring, that’s for sure!
Raising a child who learns differently and faces challenges associated with autism, learning disabilities, and ADHD has been a long, lonely, and overwhelming journey. Finding support and others who genuinely understand has been difficult; while resources for children are readily available, services for parents are limited.
Both single parents and couples face specific challenges. A child with special needs requires much time and attention; while single parents face overwhelming challenges alone, relationships can suffer as the family is impacted financially, emotionally, and socially, and the roles of husband and wife change and shift. Indeed, in my personal experience, family life was affected in unexpected ways. Because of my own experience, I am aware of the courage required and the care parents provide, and I understand the need for advocacy, support, and connection.
Whether couples or single parents, many aspects of life are impacted by this unique experience and family life can sometimes be overcome by the child’s needs. It is essential to consider the impact on social life, parenting style, sexuality/intimacy, mental health, and finances. Identifying and addressing concerns and problem areas early on increases the likelihood of being managed successfully. Life fulfillment as perceived by parents is directly related to their child’s well-being and the help and support they receive.
Care for parents is critical as changing needs and stages of development impact parental roles, quality of life, and family dynamics. For example, adolescence is a significant period of change for all children. Still, for those who are differently able, sexual development, education, transitions, lack of independence, and other unique challenges raise specific, sensitive concerns. There is a greater need for services and support for the child and parents during this time.
Raising a child with added challenges requires balance; the flexibility to acknowledge thoughts and emotions without feeling the pressure to change or dismiss them because, though difficult to face, they may not be inappropriate to the situation. Also, parents must develop the ability to discern what they can act on and control from what needs to be accepted and cannot change. Together, we can distinguish thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can be altered and recognize those where acceptance is appropriate. This work leads to freedom and the realization that fear associated with the anticipation of challenge and change is actually bigger than facing it head-on.
“Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.”
― Joan Ryan, The Water Giver