Tips for Working Moms With Special-Needs Children

Finding Balance and Support Is Critical

Special-needs child hugging sibling and dog on front porch of a home.
••• Victoria Yee / Getty Images

Since graduating from college, I have worked in a number of fulfilling and challenging positions that have allowed me to utilize my training and skills and left me feeling like I made a unique contribution. Working outside the home and interacting with peers is what my brain craves and what I need to live a balanced life.

Once my daughter was diagnosed with autism, my views of "fulfilling" and "challenging" completely shifted, as did my views of being a working mother. If my nanny went to my daughter's therapy sessions, would I understand how to continue the therapy at home? If I went to therapies with her, would I have to quit my job—and if I did, could I even afford the therapies?

Most children with special needs have a lifelong condition, requiring parents to become an expert in that condition, including how to handle the child’s unique difficulties and behaviors. The recommended therapy for most kids with autism starts at 25 hours per week, not to mention occupational, physical and speech therapies. In addition, parents are finding that diet impacts their children, requiring them to learn special recipes and buy foods they may not be familiar with—all while trying to work and attend to their other children. 

Many children with special needs also have a lot of doctor’s appointments as well as hospital stays and need to be kept home from school more often than typically developing children.

Chronically Stressed

A 2009 study found that mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience stress very similar to the stress felt by combat soldiers. In addition, these moms struggled with frequent fatigue and work interruptions as well as spending significantly more time caregiving than moms of kids without disabilities. This chronic stress translates into an average shortening of their life expectancy by 9 to 12 years—creating new stress for moms about who will take care of their special needs child(ren) when they are gone.

Research has shown that if your child has ADHD, increased problems with family and marital functioning are likely, as is disrupted parent-child relationships, reduced parenting efficacy and, once again, more stress.

Balancing Life With a Special-Needs Child

Family/friend support. I was very fortunate to have the support of my family members, who help to care for my daughter while I work and also if I need some time out with friends. Many times, one parent has to give up work to take care of their special-needs child, meaning the working partner is often working long hours. This can further stress relationships. If you are out of state and don’t have a family/friend network available to you, please check with your local regional center to see if you are eligible for respite (funds allocated to assist parents in paying for caregivers) and to find trustworthy recommendations for caregivers.

Examine your career path. I changed career paths and now I am a clinical homeopath, certified CEASE therapist, and nutritionist. All of these areas helped my daughter, so I took courses to help other parents looking for solutions. My schedule is flexible so I can accommodate parents of special-needs children; we can meet in person or Skype any day of the week. This career also keeps my daughter front and center. What I practice helps everyone, including her. Talk to your company's human resources department to see if there are any benefits or programs available to help parents of children with special needs.

Discuss work options with your employer. Is it possible to work some of your hours while your child is in a therapy session? Can your hours shift to start earlier in the day so your significant other or family member can care for your child while you start work? Can you take on late-night conference calls that others dread as part of your work hours? Examine what work items are flexible and make some well-thought-out suggestions to your employer.

Social gatherings. These can be difficult with special-needs children but can also help you find support and comfort. There are groups that meet weekly or monthly, and if you can’t find one, they are easy to start. This can help you learn about new therapies or better therapists, and may acquaint you with other parents with whom you could trade babysitting favors.

The bottom line is to ask for help. As special-needs parents, we become experts, relying on ourselves to help our children. But asking for help can open up new networks that ultimately can bring your greater knowledge and support.

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About Sima Ash: Sima Ash of Healing 4 Soul is a clinical/classical homeopath, GAPS Certified Practitioner, and certified clinical nutritionist who utilizes a unique approach pioneered by Tinus Smits, M.D. called CEASE therapy. She became involved in complementary healing after seeing dramatic improvements in her daughter, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. For additional information, please visit www.healing4soul.com