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Parents of Children with Special Needs and Empathy Burnout

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Shield HealthCare
06/14/16  3:52 PM PST
parents of children with special needs and empathy burnout

Do parents of children with special needs and empathy burnout go hand-in-hand? One mom talks about how she copes with empathy burnout while caring for her two young boys.

 

Survivor Stress

parents of children with special needs and empathy burnout

Do you have any people in your life; perhaps it’s even you, who would be labeled a “survivor”? Someone who occasionally gets that 1,000-yard stare, looking past you, to troubles and dangers only they can see? Those of us who face some form of unrelenting stress often find ourselves adopting this attitude of distance.

 

It used to be effortless for me to reach for, and find, empathy for another person. It didn’t take much for me to get outraged on their behalf. Now, as I am sitting there staring out the window as my friend describes the struggle of being on the phone for an hour to get an insurance card, I just wish my problems were that small in scope.

 

One of my sweet boys has already survived cancer, multiple surgeries, and the daily struggles of being neurodiverse. His twin brother shares his autism diagnosis. Both have required an extensive range of professional medical care and will continue to require this care for many years to come. It is battle every day to ensure my sons are getting the help they need, as well as managing the day-to-day struggles of helping them navigate a world that is so often confusing or menacing to them.

 

A Deeper Empathy

I am a survivor of a daily battle that I have not chosen, but I fight with all my spirit and intellect. I’ve been initiated into the world of disability and special needs. The stories and beautiful families I mix with now show me the resilience and hope underneath a mountain of challenges. I like to think that this new purpose to which my life has been directed has given me some wonderful new tools such as the wisdom to put events into context, to prioritize for the future and strip things down to their essentials. And I believe I now have a deeper empathy, an empathy that has been forged by adversity and is more nuanced and complex.

 

I will never stop being someone who cares about others and their daily struggles. The reason I will stay connected is because I want to be a better mother, friend, wife, sister, and person. I appreciate when people say things like, “ I don’t know why I’m complaining, this is nothing like what you have to deal with!” But I also honestly appreciate that they are there for me, sharing their lives with me, connecting me to their world.

 

The Gift of Struggle

parents of children with special needs and empathy burnout

Though I may look distant, and perhaps I am not immediately outraged on your behalf as I used to be, I’m the type of mom you want in your corner when the going gets really rough. I will heal, and given time, and just a little luck I will find an inner peace that allows me to appreciate the smaller struggles of this life. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to keep me in the loop, and don’t be afraid to reach for me when you are in need, because another gift this struggle has given me is to appreciate the strength, and comfort that friends and family can provide.

 

 

Contributed by Theresa Hornung

 

Additional Resources for Parents of Children with Special Needs and Empathy Burnout:

The Children’s Place

Pacer Center

USC TeleHealth Counseling and Therapy Services

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