By Julie Wales, Family & Special Needs Counsellor 
Being the parent of a child with a disability carries with it unique responsibilities, stressors, and rewards. It requires an extra dose of emotional resilience, perseverance, and resourcefulness. We are driven to nurture, protect, and empower our children as parents of kids perceived as normatively abled. However, parents of children with physical, intellectual, or developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum conditions, spina bifida, or Down syndrome and other health conditions, often face profound social and systemic prejudices. These “invisible” obstacles can be even more agonizing when they are unacknowledged. 
According to a Contact A Family survey 72 per cent of parent carers experience mental ill health such as anxiety, depression or breakdown due to isolation. 
As parents of children with disabilities we have to proactively seek information and support and advocate for our children. We often discover frustrating limitations that reinforce a sense of isolation or exclusion and stoke emotions such as grief or anger. As a result of these and other factors, parents seeking support for their special needs children have special needs of their own when it comes to self-care. 
Here are four ways parents of children with disabilities can make self-care a priority: 
Parent to Parent/Group support: Find others in your community with whom you feel accepted, celebrated, upheld, and safe. This could mean joining a parent’s support group running local to you. Please see my Support Workshops page for September parent support groups starting. 
Look for support groups, in person or online, where you can be with others who are struggling with similar issues, or whose children are also facing challenges. This can serve multiple functions: it can help you feel supported and connected, it can provide relief as you share your difficulties with others who understand and relate to what you’re going through, and it can help you access valuable information and resources related to ways others have dealt with and approached similar situations. 
Join a community group for Parent Carers in Gloucestershire. A list can be found at 
Taking part in a class that interests you (outside or online), strengthening your commitment to your faith community, or joining a book club. 
Professional support: Find an individual Counsellor or coach who can help you work through specific challenges and issues; soothe, manage, and reduce your fears and anxieties; and provide a space for you to grieve, rejoice, or process anger. If you struggle with speaking up for yourself or your child, you may want to focus your energies on learning how to be a more vocal and effective advocate. 
Parents of children with disabilities face added pressures and need to acknowledge their limitations and find ways to slow down, let go, and relax control, giving their nervous systems a much-needed rest. 
As the parent of a child with a disability, you expend tremendous energy trying to make sure your child has the privileges and opportunities available to other children. When your child’s disability is long-term or involves being vigilant about basic safety needs, the strain can take a toll on your well-being unless you are disciplined about your self-care. 
Finding ways to recharge, relax, and experience pleasure in your life is essential. The more balanced, relaxed, and recharged you are, the more patient, caring, and pro-active you can be as your child’s protector, nurturer, and advocate. Start with making a list of “Fun Things I Would Do If I Had Time.” You might include activities like going for a bike ride, going to dinner with a friend or partner, painting, or journaling, watching a movie, getting a massage, taking a walk outdoors, or going to the gym. 
Some parents of children with disabilities avoid taking advantage of respite care services for their children or feel pressured to “do it all on their own.” They may be anxious about their children not receiving proper or attuned care, or they may feel guilty about needing a break. In fact, allowing yourself and your child to be supported by trained caregivers can offer both of you a positive “time out” from each other, allowing you to hit the figurative reset button. It can help you replenish your emotional resources so you can be stronger and more resilient in your parenting. 
Meditation can help you slow down, be in the present moment, and let go of trying to fix or control external circumstances, even if only for 5 to 10 minutes a day. There are multiple phone apps available with free or low-fee audio recordings of brief, guided meditations you can do between tasks, while you’re waiting in line at the supermarket, or when you’re taking a bath. These apps have reminders that encourage you to take a few minutes out of your day and check in with yourself. 
Everyone needs practice letting go of endlessly regenerating thoughts, beliefs, fear-based stories, and regrets in the interest of simply accepting life as it is right now. Parents of children with disabilities face added pressures and need to acknowledge their limitations and find ways to slow down, let go, and relax control, giving their nervous systems a much-needed rest. 
In addition to experiencing high levels of chronic stress, anxiety, and depression, parents of children with disabilities are faced with the heart breaking limitations that exist in a world where not all children are included, considered, and prioritized in the same ways. As you work to confront and overcome these limitations and to secure services, treatments, opportunities, and access for your child that will help them develop and thrive, it’s easy to ignore or minimize your needs. Far from being a self-indulgent luxury, your self-care is a critical necessity. You need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others as the plane safety talk says! 
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