You may believe that practising positivity as a special needs parent is all about faking it until making it. Or, fixing a smile on your face, while you put your best foot forward. You might even think it’s about pretending all is well when it most clearly isn’t.
Contrary to what you may believe, practising positivity as a special needs parent is actually about getting real with yourself. It’s acknowledging the hard stuff and making a conscious choice to see past the challenges, so you can identify the opportunities.
The truth is, to become a more positive parent, you can’t live in denial or pretend everything is okay.
Positive special needs parenting is accepting the reality of your situation and acknowledging all your challenges. When you come to terms with your reality, you can then start breaking down your fears and work towards living a more positive life.
Becoming a positive special needs parent is not something that happens immediately, especially in the aftermath of a diagnosis. After focusing for so long on your child’s challenges, to get a diagnosis, it takes time to change direction and cultivate a more positive mindset.
However, it’s possible to practise positivity as a special needs parent by following these 5 steps. Start slowly, from the beginning, and you’ll be able to find the positives in your situation, however small or insignificant.
5 ways special needs parents can start practising positivity
Face up to your fears
Until you accept your situation and acknowledge your fears, you can’t move on. You need to first face up to your fears to see the positives in special needs parenting. You need to face what scares you and accept the reality of your situation.
For example, I needed to face up to my fears for my son’s future. I feared the bullying he might receive over his appearance. I wondered whether he’d ever be able to live independently. I was unsure if he’d make meaningful relationships with others. I did not know whether he’d ever be able to attend mainstream school.
And you know what? I’m still scared of these things. But, I needed to face these fears to find ways to overcome them. I acknowledged my fears, I faced them and I was able to deal with them.
Facing your fears is the first step forward in looking at life in a more positive way.
Strategy: Write a list of your fears so they are in front of you, in black and white. Writing them down will help you deal with them. You may find your fears will no longer have the same power over you once you see them in print.
Identify the facts
After acknowledging your fears, it’s time to look at the facts of your situation. Try to be as objective as possible and identify exactly what you do and do not know. Separating the facts from your assumptions, gives you more power as a special needs parent, while making it easier to find the positives.
In the case of my son’s albinism, we knew his level of vision and where he struggled most (with glare, distance vision, depth perception and focus). We also knew what we needed to do to help protect him from the sun. So, this knowledge gave us a starting point to help him and a direction to follow.
We were able to put a plan together and give him the help he needed, rather than assistance he didn’t require. It helped me to accept his level of disability. More importantly, it helped me understand his strengths and ability. Work on what you know, not what you THINK you know.
Strategy: List the facts, the things you definitely know, about your situation. This will clearly identify what you should be worrying about right now, put your fears into perspective and help prioritize them.
Ignore the unknown
It’s obvious, but it’s worth the reminder to focus on the things we know rather than the things we don’t. It’s harsh, but there’s no point in worrying unnecessarily about things that may never happen anyway.
I’ve had to try to put aside my concerns about my son’s future. I’m not sure whether he’ll be able to ever live independently, but I’ve had to put those fears aside because it’s impossible to know for sure right now. I’m better off concentrating on developing his life skills, so he has a better chance to live independently in the future. All our energy, is on giving him the skills to look after himself.
We’re working on increasing his executive functioning. We’re helping him safely navigate his environment. We’re giving him the social skills to make connections with others. I can’t waste time on worrying about the future right now – he needs me to help him in the here and now. It’s more productive to channel your energy into dealing with the certainties. Leave the unknowns until they become known.
Strategy: List all the unknowns, together with any assumptions (the leftover issues from Step 2). Acknowledge they exist and then ignore them. You can’t waste your energy on worrying about things that may never happen.
Separate issues and deal with them one by one
It’s taken a lot of practice but I’m now in the habit of breaking down issues into smaller chunks. It doesn’t help to look at things as one big problem (trust me, I’ve tried this with my son’s various needs!). For instance, I needed to utilise this technique when getting my son ready for high school.
We could have been overwhelmed by the totality of his needs (due to his autism, his albinism and his anxiety diagnoses), but it helped to separate his needs and concentrate on each one in turn. We looked at his vision issues first (concentrating on orientation, mobility and technology). Then, we concentrated on his autism (timetabling, organisation, behaviour and points of contact). Only then did we deal with his anxiety (developing routines, plans and responsibilities to support him).
Tackling an issue as a series of smaller obstacles makes it so much easier to get started, make progress and keep going –trust me!
Strategy: Break down issues into more manageable pieces. This will make it easier to get started, identify who needs to be involved, it will help you gain momentum and you’ll make more progress.
Shift your outlook
Instead of focusing on what might go wrong and how terrible that will be, I’ve learned to concentrate on how I could turn things around to make things right again, should the worst happen. As special needs parents, we need to prepare ourselves for every eventuality and that will never change. However, shifting your outlook to see potential challenges in a less threatening way definitely helps cultivate a more positive mindset.
In my son’s case, there was a time where I thought mainstream high school was going to be all too hard. I struggled to see past everything that could go wrong with his transition. What if he couldn’t find his way around the school? What if he couldn’t keep up with homework? What if he had a meltdown in class and lashed out at his classmates?
It helped me to look at these fears and flip them around. I concentrated on developing strategies to reduce the risk of these events happening, while putting in place plans to help him if they did. This little shift in outlook has helped me over the years and has definitely helped me get through this most recent challenge.
Strategy: Identify the things that could go wrong. Then come up with ways to avoid them or lessen their impact. Focus on how you can manage them if they happen. Have a plan of action.
Finding the positives in life is so much easier once you’ve started putting in place the strategies above. There will always be something positive there, however small and insignificant. Some days all I’ve been able to be grateful for is a hot cup of tea and an unaccompanied trip to the toilet! But, a positive is a positive, however small.
How do you practise positivity as a special needs parent?
This post is part of our new series “5 Things Special Needs Parents Should Know”. If you’d like to submit a guest post, or if you have a topic you’d like covered as part of this weekly series, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org