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Special needs brings special stress

Swinging along...
Swinging along...

A child—any child—brings a certain amount of stress into a family. When it’s the first child, the parents worry about everything. Later children add different kinds of stress—making time for everything and helping the new child to fit into the existing family unit. But a child with special needs compounds these stresses exponentially.

A recent study conducted at the University of Wisconsin suggests that parents of children with a disability cope with a higher level of stress and long-term health problems than parents of normally developing children. The research team looked at stress in terms of arguments, work stress, and home stress.

Typically, the stress starts right away when new parents have to realign their ideas of who their child will be. Depending on the situation, they may have to come to terms that their child will not follow in their footsteps to attend an Ivy League school, for instance. Unfounded guilt can also be an initial reaction to learning that a child has special needs.

To combat the very real day-to-day stress, parents need to build in stress reducers into their lives. One easy addition that can help to reduce stress is music. Play some favorite tunes in the background and your mood will lift. From time to time during the day, take a break, listen to music, and breathe deeply. Make sure that you are eating meals and drinking enough water. These small things can make a real difference in your stress level.

You’ve no doubt heard this before, but it bears repeating: it is vital that parents get a break from their child. While arranging respite care can be difficult, taking a daily walk or visiting a friend (without the child) can offer some relief.

Parents also have to be willing to ask for help. If there are no family members or friends who can step in, then it may be necessary to seek professional help. A good first place to get help is from an organization geared to the child’s particular issue.

Here are some examples of places to look for help:
National Association for Down Syndrome (
United Cerebral Palsy (
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) (
Prader Willi Syndrome Association (