Special Needs Mom, you can say no. That’s a lesson guest blogger Sheri Dacon learned learned the hard way after her son was diagnosed with autism almost a decade ago. Today, she’s sharing so you don’t have to learn it the hard way.
Special Needs Moms, You Can Say No
When my son was diagnosed with autism nine years ago, I determined to do everything in my power to fight it. I wanted knowledge, information, and insight so I could help him succeed, no matter the cost.
The school district put me in touch with a local advocate, a woman who also had an autistic son.
I called her one night, hopes set high.
An hour later I was on the verge of a panic attack.
There was simply too much information. She gave me opinions and ideas, multiple anecdotes of what had and hadn’t worked for her son. She rattled on about diet and supplements, chelation and heavy metals, vaccines and conspiracy theories.
When she started in on the dangers of plastic, I almost stopped breathing.
“Clearly I’m was doing everything wrong,” I thought – from feeding my child red food coloring, to allowing him to eat bread, to serving it up on a plastic plate.
The woman was well meaning. I have no doubt she intended to help.
But her words frightened and paralyzed me.
For those beginning the special needs journey
I’m much further along on the journey now, and I have indeed made some changes. But I had to start by eating that elephant one bite at a time, not all at once!
So this post is for those of you in the early stages.
- Maybe you’ve just received a diagnosis.
- Maybe you’re a couple of years in and completely stressed out.
- Maybe you’re like I was – determined to “do it all” because your child deserves every opportunity.
I’ve been down that road and I want to offer this suggestion: Special needs mom, you can say no.
When I was a younger woman, I felt I needed to be a good mother, a good citizen, a good Christian, a good wife, a good cook, a good housekeeper, and so on. I said yes to everything.
I volunteered at my kids’ schools. I sang in the church choir and on the praise team. I worked Vacation Bible School. I taught Kindermusik classes. I cleaned my home on a schedule. I cooked “from-scratch” meals every night. I clipped coupons and shopped frugally. I planted my own garden and flower beds with vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials. I scrapbooked every precious moment of my children’s lives. I kept myself thin and in shape.
I did it all.
Then I discovered my child had autism and I planned to use similar strategies in my attempt to fight it.
Can you see where this is going?
It’s Okay to Say No
At age 40, I crashed and burned. My body and my soul simply refused to go on. I knew I could no longer live this way and I began to say no out of absolute necessity.
Please hear this, parents. Don’t do what I did. Don’t let it go on that long.
I’m giving you permission today to let go and say no.
- It’s okay to say no to that gluten-free, casein-free diet right now.
- It’s okay to say no to that new therapy your friend raves about.
- It’s okay to say no to reading another book about autism and just read a novel instead.
- It’s okay to stay home from church this Sunday because you’re exhausted.
- It’s okay to step down from your volunteer position and focus on your own needs.
- It’s okay to turn down a playdate that stresses you out.
You can’t do it all.
And raising a child with special needs is hard work. It’s a soapbox I climb upon frequently, but it bears repeating: you can’t take care of your child if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
And that means – more often than you might think – saying no. Even to good things.
How to Say No
Want to know what I said no to?
- I said no to special diets. I have four kids, not just one, and when my son was diagnosed, I was on a strict budget. The idea of going completely gluten and casein free overwhelmed me. So I cut out high fructose corn syrup instead. Then food colorings. And so on. Nine years later, we still aren’t gluten and casein free – but that’s okay for us!
- I said no to volunteering. No more room mom or PTA duties, no more leading Vacation Bible School or singing in the church choir. Even though I enjoyed those things, I knew they weren’t something I could do at the time.
- I said no to therapies. We tried lots of things. But at one point, we had to quit therapy because the weekly drive through heavy traffic was too stressful. I knew that my child having a panic-stricken mom might negate all the good that therapy was doing.
- I said no to certain family or friend get-togethers. I learned to recognize when my child got overwhelmed (or when I did), and that meant staying home and possibly disappointing people.
Please hear me: I understand how you want to do everything in your power for your child. But I also know how stressful it is to live in a human body and not be able to accomplish everything you think you ought to. I know the toll that raising a special needs child takes on the family.
So this week, take some time for you. And remember, special needs mom, you can say no.
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