I am the mother of a child with special needs. My daughter is 11 and was born with her brain’s prefrontal lobe not fully developed. The condition is called pachygyria. If you Google it (which is the first thing I did when we were given our official diagnosis), you will be presented with a stifling litany of sites professing the medical challenges and potentially dire possibilities.
The current reality for my daughter: She is physically agile but has fairly extensive learning delays and mood highs/lows… and, at this point, we are seizure-free.
Now, on the other side of my life, I am a long-term practitioner and teacher of meditation and mindfulness. With all of the challenges presented with my daughter, I can honestly say that this practice has been my saving grace. I’ve had periods of anger and deep frustration but never to the point of sheer depression or hopelessness. Every time I felt like I was at a point of no return, it always pulled me forward with new direction, hope and perspective.
That is why I am writing this today and why one of my missions is to show parents who have kids on the autism spectrum, with learning disabilities (ADD, dyslexia, etc.), with hearing/sight challenges, with emotional or other physical challenges, how amazingly important and altering this practice can be. I know — I live it every day. So, from my personal perspective:
1. Mindfulness helps parents of children with special needs gracefully maneuver stress.
Having children is stressful. I have a typically-developing child and a non-typical. They both carry their own variety of challenges, but I have to say that having a non-typical child is profoundly different. There are so many more unknowns. For example, with my typical kid it is pretty easy to assume that she will go to college, live on her own, support herself. I don’t know any of that with my other… get my drift.
My non-typical child also has drastic challenges with temper. From moment to moment you might get the incredibly cherubic child or the intense spitting, kicking, frustrated one.
So, on the daily spectrum, mindfulness gives me space to breathe. When my daughter is having a frustrated moment, it allows me the bandwidth to step out of my own frustration, to calm it, and to be with her in a connected, balanced way. Basically, it helps me to not get caught up in the drama and to focus on that strong part within myself. Now, I am SO PROUD to say I am even able to laugh when the stomping/yelling occurs — a huge step for me. And, as a result, the whole situation lightens within seconds.
2. Mindfulness helps parents accept situations and allows them to work through them with more ease and confidence.
Two examples in my life:
(a) Mindfulness has given me the freedom to not worry about what other people think when I am in a tough situation outside the home with my daughter. My daughter looks typical, so when she acts “different” it causes heads to turn. Through my practice I have learned that my daughter’s actions aren’t a reflection of me or of my mothering skills — they just are what they are. And my practice has also opened me up to much more frankness and honesty. If I know that there is a possibility that she may get upset, I give folks around me the heads up. I find that most people want to understand and can quickly exude great compassion.
(b) I also have learned to accept what is happening in front of me without attaching labels or if xx happens today, it means xx for the future. I have learned to take a dose of reality but not to let it dictate my life or my daughter’s life.
3. Mindfulness gives parents of children with special needs the opportunity to see the bigger picture.
I can’t tell you how many times I have wished/hoped that this situation was not mine. However, over time my mindfulness practice has shown me the beauty of my daughter’s situation. Yes, I can easily express how much of a pain in the ass it has been, but if I really look deeply, I can give you 100 times more amazing things that it has brought to my life. One of the big ones: Her issue led me to one of my most amazing and helpful teachers. I also see how her situation was so necessary in my life to help me work on some of my big challenges (my control issues, learning to be more flexible and trusting, learning to lighten up, etc.). I also see how she has pushed me to better myself and that girl won’t let me slack off. In my case, she reflects back to me what it is I need to work on. Talk about an awesome challenge. And, if she didn’t think I could handle it, she wouldn’t be here today. I know my daughter ultimately trusted that we would both bring out the best in each other. That is an awesome wonderful thing to feel and trust.
My daughter has been the biggest source of pain/fear, the biggest love of my life, the biggest challenge, the biggest success… she is the fullest expression of everything that life has to offer. If I hadn’t been doing meditation/mindfulness, chances are I would have missed big pieces of that.
And, as a final word, I wish all of you could see how she and I were together five years ago compared to now. Our journey together is now so much more gentle, accepting and peaceful. My daughter also practices, which is tremendous… but that is another story!