Autistic Kids Killed by Mom
According to a tape released July 21, a mother in Dallas, Texas had killed her two children because “I want normal children.” Parents of special needs kids often feel disappointment and grief when he or she learns that his or her child will not “be normal.” How can one prevent that grief and that disappointment from crossing the line? That is an important lesson to be learned here.
Leslie O’Donnell is a mother of an autistic son who has other co-existing issues, such as sensory processing disorder. She recently wrote an article about her perspective on having a “disabled” child. The article has lessons for other parents who need to move past that sense of disappointment. It’s not something you can teach, or impart; it’s a process that all parents need to go through, on their own, in their own way. But there can be help and support given. Society can be educated at large about what it is like for us and for parents of special needs children to learn how to educate those around them.
Until that perfect society develops though, there are things parents, caregivers, and friends can do. The first is to understand that all parents go through a grieving process after the birth, both for neurotypical children and special needs. Granted, it’s on a smaller scale for those with “normal” children than for the others. But all parents have expectations for their children; because of that, all parents go through a period of disappointment when they realize that their child will develop in their own way, in their own time, regardless of our expectations. The Dad who wanted a football star will come to accept and love his child who is a chess champion instead.
Those periods of disappointment and acceptance are normal and society has learned about those. It’s time to realize the period of grief that special needs parents go through. It’s much larger and much more challenging. Family can be a source of support or a source of further grief. Listen in on the chats within special needs online forums, and you will see exactly what is meant. Unintentionally or otherwise, family members find themselves not knowing what to say and say some of the meanest, hurting things imaginable. Telling a mom that if she just did this or that other and her child would be Just Fine is not helpful. Can you not imagine for one moment that the parent has not already thought of every this and that which would help her child?
Here are some more helpful things for parents and friends of parents of special needs children:
1. Join a support group. Yes, it’s hard to reach out and find time to discover a group that works for you but it is so vital. It’s best if it’s an in-person group; that physical connection can work wonders. Even an online discussion group can help a parent feel less isolated and alone in their grief.
2. Get therapy. Not just for the child, but for yourself, for your spouse, for other family members. It takes a group to make this process work. If you have a sister who just does not “get it,” invite her to attend therapy with you, so you can open a helpful dialogue and get that out of the way.
3. Tell people how you really feel. It’s going to be shocking to you that certain thoughts and feelings come up, but if you’re in a support group, chances are, they have all felt similarly. If you have a therapist, share those thoughts and feelings. Again, it may feel shocking to you but your therapist is not there to judge you, but to help you process those thoughts and feelings.
4. Do not isolate yourself or your family. Sometimes it is necessary for your own sanity to stop visiting or being involved with certain ignorant people, including family members. But it is important that you make connections elsewhere as well. If you isolate yourself and your family, you may protect yourself in some ways from the disappointments in life, but you do far worse for yourself in the process.
5. Take mental health breaks. Even if it’s only for ten minutes a day, do something at some point, just for yourself. Journaling, a bubble bath, a long telephone chat with a close friend, something that is just for you. If possible, find a sitter and get out alone. It’s okay. You have to take care of the caretaker in order for that person to care for others. You need a refill and recharge emotionally.
6. Call a crisis hotline. Each state has a parent crisis hotline. If you find yourself reaching a boiling point, call one. It’s located at the front of the phone book, in the blue pages. Worst case scenario: go to the emergency room and get help. There is no shame to be had in helping yourself when needed.