Recent research indicates that family caregivers of children with special needs actually have accelerated aging down to the cell level, up to a 10 years difference from other parents. This is made even more difficult by the fact that children are with disabilities are more likely to be raised by single parents than children without disabilities. However, there are things that parents can do to preserve their physical, and mental, health.
Talking with other Parents
Sometimes speaking with other parents who have “been there” is all that is needed. The latest study indicates that peer support helps reverse the lengthening of “telomeres” (aging.) There are support groups as well as “matching” with a trained volunteer parent of a child with the same condition through Parent-to-Parent. The American Self-Help Clearinghouse lists support groups nationally, including one-to-one telephone assistance (see Resources.)
Photo www.centrolasamericas.orgExercise, Quiet Time, etc.
Parents need to take care of themselves so they can take care of their child. Sometimes families may be able to involve their child, which is always best if possible, such as going on walks or doing yoga together. Even if your child doesn’t participate, there may be a way for a parent to try to do healthy things while supervising their child. For example, sometimes my daughter will play on a videogame while I do exercise videos in the same room. There’s such a variety such as aerobics, “stepping”, and even walking videos that can be done indoors if the weather is bad. Or a parent can use a treadmill, exercise bike, or even a simple “pedaler” while their child looks at a book, or watches TV or a video.
Ultimately, parents of children with disabilities may just need to get away for a bit. Parents have to feel comfortable with the person who will be with their child, so it may be a gradual process. Families may want to stay home the first time, then increase the time away. Even a few hours a month is beneficial. In some states, children with developmental disabilities or other conditions, receive respite services. The source of respite will differ from state to state. Many times, the Title V (Maternal/Child Health) Program can give families leads on how to find care. Family Voices/Family-to-Family Health Information Centers and Parent-to-Parent programs can also give parents helpful resources. There is also a national respite locator for families (see Resources.)
There are many ways that parents can de-stress, for either a short time period or hours. Parents of children with special needs can talk to other families, take care of their physical/mental health, or just get away for a bit and come back refreshed.
Support groups - American Self-Help Clearinghouse
Mental Health help
ARCH national respite locator
Title V (Maternal/Child Health)
Family Voices/Family-to-Family Health Information Centers
Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (www.spanadvocacy.org), a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at www.familyvoices.org or FB www.facebook.com/pages/Family-Voices-Inc-National/137783182902269. She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at http://caregiveraction.org/ or FB www.facebook.com/CaregiverActionNetwork.