Guest Blogs

What to Expect When You Didn’t Expect to Raise a Special Needs Child

Did becoming the parent of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or other related conditions throw you for a loop?

Have you ever thought, “I give this child my all. I have nothing left for myself, my spouse, or my other child(ren),” or, “I worry about my child’s future constantly”?

Do you wish someone had — and you’d read — a guide called What to Expect When You’re (Not) Expecting a Special Needs Child to help prepare you for your child’s challenges?

If so, you’re not alone.

As I mentioned in my last post, I coedited a book aimed at bridging the gap between parents of “Easy to Love but Hard to Raise” children, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities (LD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), or other alphabet soup conditions that take the already difficult job of parenting and add to the challenge. My own contribution to the book was introducing what I believe to be the first-ever attempt to quantify and describe the typical experience of parents who are raising these kids by creating an archetypal special needs parent, Eve. Eve grew from my fascination with the striking commonalities between those of us raising kids with “invisible” disabilities that grabbed my attention as I edited the stories in the book. Eve, short for Everyparent of an Easy to Love but Hard to Raise Child, brings the special needs parenting experience to life, from when we first imagine ourselves as parents, through our children’s infant and toddler years, their school years, and ending when they’re young adults.

It is my hope that Eve is the “What to Expect” of special needs parenting, that she shows us that our feelings — even the dark ones (such as wanting to run away) that we rarely admit to having — are normal. And I hope that knowing what to expect will help parents blame themselves for their children’s conditions less, accept less blame for their children’s problem behaviors from others, gain confidence in their parenting abilities sooner, and accept and make peace with their children’s situations earlier.

Eve grew from the personal stories of 32 parent-authors, but does she reflect the larger community of parents of kids with ADHD and other challenges? My co-editor and I created an online survey to help us find out. But beyond proving or disproving Eve’s accuracy, via the survey’s results, I hope the questions themselves prove to be useful tools as prompts for self-reflection, as a framework to guide sharing at parent support group meetings, and as a vehicle for professionals to validate their clients’ experiences.