Are You a Caregiver for Special Needs?

caregiver special needs

How do you know you’re  doing enough?  That is a difficult question for any caregiver, but especially so when you are taking care of your special needs child.

I had a woman sitting in my office the other day, the mom of a five year old with autism.  She was sure there was something she was missing because her son was still having problems.

This mom had emotional/behavioral and physical/occupational therapies for her son.  She had found special ed karate and yoga classes.  She had found the perfect summer camp.  She had a speech therapist for him so he could learn to communicate clearly with others.  She and I had developed a simple behavioral program to address some daily challenges.  He was in a program at school for children with autism, and there was plenty of no-demand cuddle time.

Still, she was sure that she was missing something.  In truth, what she was missing was not a service for her son at all.  It was the awareness that she was doing “enough”.

This lack of self-awareness has dangerous potential outcomes – anger, depression, exhaustion, suppressed immune system, heart disease — but it comes from a place of love.  We want our kids to be better, to not have to experience the pain and challenges their disability may bring. That is what makes it harder to identify when we have done enough.

We have to recognize when we have surpassed “everything possible” and moved into magical thinking.

So, how do you know you are doing enough?

Are you following the recommendations you are getting from the professionals involved as best you can? Then you are probably doing enough.

Do other parents of autistic kids seem to be doing the same kinds of things or tell you what a good job you are doing?  Then you are probably doing enough.

Are your friends telling you how amazing you are?  Listen to them.  You are probably doing enough.

Are your friends telling you to stop, that they are worried about you?  Now you are through the “enough” phase and moving into too much.  Listen to your friends.  They love you and provide useful feedback.

Have you not seen or talked to your friends longer than you can remember?  You are through the   “enough”  phase and into “too much.”  It is time to take care of you.

Do you feel angry/exhausted/irritable/depressed/overwhelmed?  A “yes” to any of those may suggest you are doing more than enough, and you are probably into the “too much” zone.

Accept that you are human.  You need down time, time to eat, sleep, exercise,  relax and nurture your mind and spirit.  There is a limit to how much one person can do.  There is no magic bullet, no “If I just do this one more thing, then he/she will be ok.”

Self-talk reminder:  “I am doing the best I can, and that is enough.”  Repeat as needed.

 

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About Elissa Lewin

Elissa Lewin is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has maintained a private practice outside of Philadelphia for 25 years. Her own experience as a caregiver led to her founding Nancy’s House, a comprehensive respite program for family caregivers. www.nancy's-house.org

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