An Analysis of Relationships Between Special Children and their Mothers
A mother’s relationship with her child can never be measured. It is full of mystery starting right from the child’s conception in his or her mother’s womb up to the time he or she is brought to this world. In fact, what differentiates a mother from a father is her innate and absolute capacity to develop a child inside herself. This apparently explains the special intimacy between a mother and her child. However, when a mother learns and realizes that she has a child with a disability or a chronic illness, she starts a journey that takes her into a life that often necessitates strong emotional conviction, hard options, interactions with experts and people who are on the same situation, and a continued need for information and services particularly on the condition of her child. Having a special child can be a painful and emotional ordeal for a mother who wishes for a child who will supposedly shape and complete her world. Understanding how to be a mother of a child with special needs could provide her guidance and hope that such a situation can be addressed. Still, it is the mother’s attachment with her special child that is matters the most.
You are not alone
In a News Digest article, Patricia McGill Smith (2003) openly addressed the actual but difficult situation that a mother experiences when parenting a special child. Smith (2003) talked about the various emotions of concerned mothers and suggested a position and ways on how to live and cope with the difficulty of raising a child with a disability. The article confirmed that during this particular difficulty, the mind and heart of a mother is faced with various emotions (Smith, 2003). Smith (2003), however, stressed that there are other mothers, even a large number of mothers out there, who are on the same situation. This realization can make a mother who has recently discovered that her child is mentally disabled feel less lonely in such a struggle (Smith, 2003).
According to Smith (2003), there is a need to know and accept the common reactions of a mother faced with such problem in order for her trauma and anxieties to be addressed. These reactions and emotions include denial, anger, fear, guilt, confusion, powerlessness, disappointment and rejection (Smith, 2003). Smith (2003) concluded by saying that while it is true that not all mothers experience the said constellation of intense emotions, it is still significantly helpful for a mother to acknowledge all the possible problems and be aware that she is not alone. This, in effect, will ease her trouble and enable her to take immediate actions and ask for assistance and information about the condition of her child (Smith, 2003).
Stories in Marsh’s Book
In the book “From the Heart: On Being a Mother of a Child with Special Needs” edited by Jayne D.B. Marsh (1995), nine mothers talked and researched the utmost yet oftentimes agonizing, emotional tract of having and raising a special child. The collection of reports was written in a candid but eye-opening story-telling way. It was derived from various support group associations of the nine concerned mother. The mothers in Marsh’s book have children who have disabilities such as “autism, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, ADD, and multiple disabilities” (Marsh, 1995).
Aside from the main issue of relationship between the mothers and their special children, the book edited by Marsh (1995) all discussed the victories, failures, pain and happiness shared by the mothers and the special children. The book was also formed based on various themes such as the dealings or consultations of the mothers with medical experts, relationships within the family, school activities of the special children and other related topics concerning the conditions or disabilities of the children and how they deal with close friends and family members. The agonizing stories of the nine mothers vibrate with the usual conflicts of “healing; being heard and understood; coping with life; and dealing with greater emotional intensity than most parents do” (Marsh, 1995). In exposing what is most significant and painful for them, the nine mothers corroborated the experiences of other parents which are similar to theirs. The book addresses the concern of any mother who is in the same situation but may know little information about the ways of raising a special child. It pointed out that the connection among these mothers will just become evident until they associate themselves as one who should form like a strong family in order to address the same concern of child disabilities (Marsh, 1995).
For a mother of a special child, the need to be heard and eventually understood is one of the most significant components of their dealings with other people. Marsh (1995) said that a mother who is being heard, without questions and presumptions, by the members of her family and by others such as friends, neighbors, co-workers, medical experts and members of the society, as well as those in various related associations, will be of help to the over-all acceptance of the situation (Marsh, 1995). When a mother of a special child has someone who listens wholeheartedly, it could help her understand better the circumstances surrounding the emotional burden she is feeling (Marsh, 1995). Hence, fulfilling the need to be heard, understood, and sympathized is very important to the emotional well-being of the mother pf a special child (Marsh, 1995).
The said book also stresses this natural need by all humans to be heard. Marsh (1995) states that not only mothers need someone who can sincerely listen to them. Generally, humans have a natural necessity to be heard and confirmed (Marsh, 1995). People need to feel reassured that whatever they say is alright and will be acceptable to others. This is manifested in an individual’s everyday interaction with his or her family members and friends as well as the dealings made by a mother to experts regarding the medical condition of her special child (Marsh, 1995). In fact, Marsh (1995) emphasized that the professionals that the mothers deal with must recognize such need to be heard by the mothers of special children. This is because in the long run and in one’s everyday life, when such need is properly observed and accepted, the mother, her special child, and all the people around them will surely benefit when they have someone who can empathically listen to them (i.e., listening carefully to others with full attention) (Marsh, 1995).
The first of the emotional journeys or stages that a mother of a special child undergoes is the need to be heard. In order to explore how it feels like to be a mother of a special child and to learn as well as understand the kind of relationship that is needed for the mother and the child to overcome their situation, it is imperative for the mother to be heard on the onset. The source of power emanates from the mother. Thus, all her emotions must be heard and appreciated first by the ones closest to her. In one of the stories included in her book, Marsh (1995) shared that all her sister (who is a mother of a child with a disability) needed is to be heard from the heart. Indeed, what the mother needs the most is someone who would just listen and accept all her emotions and pains without being judged or blamed. When the mother is able to release all these emotions, she would be able to properly address the situation, benefiting both herself and her special child as a result.
The mentioned book advocates the cause and effect principle which can explain that a feeling of being understood follows when the need to be heard is addressed. When a mother of a special child is sympathetically heard by another person, the receiver of all the emotions and ideas of the mother would be able to understand what the mother is driving at (Marsh, 1995). The feeling of being understood is as important as the need to be heard. This is because in this way, the mother will be able release what are inside her mind and heart. Moreover, the listener would be able to feel for the mother and eventually come up with suggestions that can effectively address the situation (Marsh, 1995). Ultimately, the special child would also be appreciated and receive all the love and assistance he or she needs to overcome the disability and live a normal life (Marsh, 1995).
It is a working principle among mothers and their special children that life should never stop on the discovery of disabilities. In fact, it should be taken as just the start of a new yet demanding life. This is because the mother and her special child have to look and handle life and its challenges in an enlarged and boundless perspective. In the said book, other stories or accounts of the everyday life of a mother and her special child were depicted in such a way that the social life of a mother and her disabled child must be amplified in order to address their respective needs (Marsh, 1995).
Similarly, in the book “Raising a Child Who Has a Physical Disability,” Donna G. Albrecht (1995) revealed her personal experience with her daughter who is a special child. Their life story was encompassed in a larger or magnified orientation and dealings. According to Albrecht (1995), the life of a mother and her special child should cover every aspect of loving and living with a physically or mentally disabled child. The author emphasized that there should be a need to examine the emotional, social, educational, recreational, and medical factors involved in raising a disabled child from toddler to adult (Albrecht, 1995). The book presents particular ways of strengthening the family unit and continuing with everyday life while recognizing and addressing the need for a magnified life of the mother as well as dealing with the special concerns and problems of the disabled child (Albrecht, 1995). Albrecht (1995) particularly identified details about dealing with medications, diet, and hygiene, developing self-esteem, and choosing clothing. Offering practical suggestions that include every aspect of loving and living with a special child, the book supports the perspective of amplified life discussed in Marsh’s (1995) book (Albrecht, 1995).
A mother and her special child are faced with the fact that the disability is chronic and has to be dealt with for the rest of their lives. This next topic in the book by Marsh (1995) explains that with this idea, a mother and her special child have to be prepared with the chronicity of their situation and the specific disability. Aside from the emotional aspect of the relationship between a mother and her special child, it will be logical to think of the practicality of handling the situation such as preparing for the child’s future given the nature of the disability.
It is not doable for a mother to imagine and rest at all the stops and detours that she is faced as her emotional and demanding journey takes her into the future of dealing with the chronic disability of her child (Dickman, n.d., cited in Brown, Goodman, & Küpper, 2003).
In their article at News Digest, Brown, Goodman, and Küpper (2003) stated that at times, a mother may probably think of what the future holds for her special child. However, they stressed that it is of considerable importance for a mother to be ready and have expectations about what her disabled child can achieve in the future (Brown, Goodman, & Küpper, 2003). The three authors added that considering the prolonged condition and intensity of the disability of a special child as well as looking at the situation in a wider perspective will be helpful to a mother and may encourage her special child to create as much independence as possible (Brown, Goodman & Küpper, 2003).
The same authors concluded that the mother should include her intentions to develop goals for her special child who s bound by a chronic disability in planning for the future (Brown, Goodman & Küpper, 2003). This will surely be helpful to the mother to ensure that her special child has the chance to get abilities early. This is because it will make and enable the special child to possibly live on his or her own in the future (Brown, Goodman & Küpper, 2003). Second, a mother must guarantee that the developed social abilities of her special child will be useful in different environments such as the usual academic institution. It will also be helpful to prepare a will or special needs trust so as to ensure the child’s care and protect his or her qualification for all benefits due him or her (Brown, Goodman ; Küpper, 2003). The preparation also entails teaching the special child to take responsibility especially pertaining to his or her personal needs. Lastly, a mother should coordinate with the school of her child and other institutions to guarantee that her plan takes effect. This involves addressing education for possible job in the future, coordination with service providers, and involvement in various activities in the society (Brown, Goodman ; Küpper, 2003).
How to get by with the situation of having a special child is definitely an emotional journey for a mother. Despite all the possible and in-place assistance and comfort, a mother’s emotional struggle will never cease to exist. Hence, an effective coping mechanism is essential. Similar to the perspective presented by Marsh (1995), the National Association of School Psychologists (2002) stated that aside from the school personnel, a mother must study how her special child reacts to any kind of stress. She must also foresee a more utmost psychological response especially after experiencing a crisis in life. The online source reports that it is not only the mother who goes through an emotional journey. The special child may also have more of the burden to handle because of his or her limitations or incapability. The same association added that effective and tested techniques are the best strategies to be utilized at the onset. Knowing and accepting the coping strategies entails that the strategies might render more solid and faster results (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002).
According to the same organization, the coping strategies employed by the mother should be considerate of the “triggers and cues” for these special children. In this way, a mother can foresee rather than respond to the routine changes of her special child. This will also give ample time for evaluation of the traumatic event that the child has experienced, in a safe and familiar setting. Furthermore, knowing the “triggers and cues” will provide activity options that are feasible to a special child. These options can give him or her a sense of control over even a portion of his or her life. For a mother and her child to cope with the emotional journey brought about by their situation, it may be necessary for the special child to be more safeguarded or inevitably singled out from the rest to lessen confusion and prevent excitement during the peak of a crisis. In this situation, an intense adult supervision is critical. A mother should also anticipate and deal with an occasional increase in behavioral problems in a steady and coherent manner. When the behavioral problems are identified, it could help the special child to understand that despite many modifications and interruptions, consistent school and family policies should be maintained. These policies allow the mother and her special child to depend on each other as well as with other available support and service organizations (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002).
In their article, Brown, Goodman, and Küpper (2003) suggested several steps that a mother can take when she discovers that her child has a disability. First, the authors urge the mother to get all the necessary information about her child’s condition, the services available that can aid her child, and the particular action to take that can help her child realize his or her full potential. The authors also recommend the mother to join an organized group of parents who also have children with disabilities for “informational, emotional, and practical support (Brown, Goodman, & Küpper 2003, p. 8). Finally, as “the heart of the family,” the mother should take care of her health and do her part in keeping her marriage strong and intact (Brown, Goodman, & Küpper 2003, p. 9)
The healing process for a mother who has a special child involves an over-all remedy or cure of her emotional, physical, and psychological conditions. A book by Dawn Atkinson (2003) entitled “In This Together” shows how a mother of a special child can gain healing from the situation. A mother’s healing process can start by insisting that her child is not special because of his or her disabilities but because he or she is a wonderful gift from God. A mother needs to be aware, understand, and accept the struggles facing her. She also has to realize that other mothers are going through the same journey. After the problems and struggles, a mother has to rejoice that God has given her a precious and wonderful gift, a special kind such as her child but one that who will surely touch her heart for the rest of her life (Atkinson, 2003).
According to Atkinson (2003), in order to heal the wounds of pains and frustrations, a mother of a special child should treat their situation a powerful experience but a great deal of obligation. A mother has to be conscious that being into such situation can bend or complete her motherhood. In all aspects, having a special child will definitely cause a change in the mother. Through the healing process, the mother would be able to acknowledge that the situation she is in is a journey that she has entered upon with her child. It starts with a mother learning her emotional extent. It will be followed by the realization that a mother’s strength is not enough; she has to draw strength from her child. Regardless of the limitations of a special child, the journey will continue to the point that his or her mother will learn that her child is the actual teacher and the mother is the student. When these delicate yet intense lessons are met, the mother has completed the healing process (Atkinson, 2003).
The relationship and the emotional as well as psychological journey that a mother and her special child undergo, as presented in the book edited by Marsh (1995) and other related sources, are the realities of facing such a situation. Notwithstanding the struggles, realization, nature, perspective, coping and healing components of having a special child, most mothers are left with no one to cling on to but themselves. They may be perceived to be weak and their special child to be fragile. However, their attachment, efforts, and commitment to handle the situation surpass any mental or physical disabilities. Together, the mother and her special child fight for their right to exist and live a normal life in this world.
Albrecht, D. G. (1995). Raising a Child Who Has a Physical Disability. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.
Atkinson, D. (2003). In This Together. Bloomington, IN: Author House.
Brown, C. Goodman, S. & Küpper L. (2003). The unplanned journey future planning for a
child with disabilities. In Parenting a Child with Special Needs, NICHCY News Digest, n20 (3rd Ed.), 7-14. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from http://www.nichcy.org/pubs/newsdig/nd20.pdf
Marsh, J. D. B. (1995). From the Heart: On Being a Mother of a Child with Special Needs. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2002). Coping with Crisis–Helping Children With Special Needs: Tips for School Personnel and Parents. Retrieved March 28, 2008, from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/specpop_general.aspx
Smith, P. M. (2003). You Are Not Alone: For Parents When They Learn That Their Child Has a Disability. In Parenting a Child with Special Needs, NICHCY News Digest, n20 (3rd
Ed.), 2-6. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from http://www.nichcy.org/pubs/newsdig/nd20.pdf