Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Picking up the Pieces: Dealing with the aftermath of Trauma with Special Needs Children

As a parent you go through your journey trying to raise your kids the best way you know how. You read the parenting books, you listen to the experts and you take away the lessons you have learned from others. You convince yourself that you have prepared your children for the real world. With all the horrors that lie outside your front door, you pray that every time they walk out, that nothing bad is going to happen to them. We as parents have nightmares about trauma ever happening to our children. The old statement that when you become a parent, kiss a goodnight’s sleep goodbye, there is some truth to that. Even when you do your best, bad stuff still happens and it is what breaks your heart as a parent when trying to pick up the pieces, wondering what went wrong.  It is more heartbreaking when you are the parent of a special needs child, who doesn't understand why bad stuff happens.

As a parent, you struggle with your own emotions during a difficult time. You ask yourself, how could bad stuff happen to my child. I did everything I could to ensure that child's safety. You start to re-evaluate yourself and the way you parent. Deep down after you try to take all the hurt away you are left with ‘Where do we go next?’ ‘How could I have let bad stuff happen to my child?’ and ‘What steps do I have to do in order for my child to heal?’

You go through these stages of guilt and paranoia. You don't want to let them out of your sight and you feel bad that you had no control over what happened to them. Oh… and you’re angry. So very angry. Angry at yourself, at the situation, and the all the hurt that the bad stuff caused. Being a parent is going to be one of the toughest gigs you will ever have. Yes, you have your joys, but damn the heartache. That’s the kicker right there. Especially when that heartache was caused by something that was beyond your control.  When bad stuff happens to our kids, we become this bear like protector, full of rage and anger, ready to strike at anyone who dares to cross our paths and mess with our children. Sadly, most of us who are caretakers of those with special needs know all too well what it means to go into bear mode.

Our children, regardless of their diagnosis or the severity of it, for the most part are resilient. The ability to bounce back from bad stuff is remarkable. While they process things differently than us adults, there is still that element of hurt and not understanding why things happen the way they do. So when you have a child who experiences something like emotions differently than the average person, it is hard for that understanding of something to be acknowledged or processed. When bad stuff happens, it is going to involved a different type of healing, a different approach for them to come to terms with what has happened. Emotions and memories that may be blocked can come out with certain behaviors. These behaviors aren't always understood by either the child themselves, the people around them, or both. Sometimes for us caregivers it is hard to have a conversation about something that is uncomfortable with a person that doesn't understand what happened in the first place. They don't understand why the hurt is there, because they don't quite get the emotion behind those feelings. 

In the past couple of week things on a personal scale, as well as an outside world scale, have prompted this post. In the news as of late where a severely autistic man’s therapist was shot right in front of him begs the question of “How do our children or loved ones with special needs cope with having trauma in their lives?” As we will always wonder how our loved ones’ process things anyway when trauma or bad stuff happens. We worry about the lasting effects of it on our loved ones, as they have little to no understanding of what has taken place. Fear might be the only recognizable response. Something in that traumatic event might trigger a behavior that is misunderstood. Sometimes a person doesn’t know how to handle it properly, even special needs persons handles trauma differently. Even the word “Trauma” is scary to anyone and a word that no one likes to hear. Especially a parent or caregiver.

Hearing the words “Trauma” in regards to your own children is one of the worst things a parent can hear. Doesn’t matter what kind of trauma is being talked about; emotional or physical , the word alone will make you sick to your stomach. It is a nightmare that no parent wants to live. You try to be a good parent and do everything you think is right and think that nothing bad will happen to you… until it does.

Many of you know that I write from personal experience. I write in hopes that my stories will help others who might be in the same boat as I am. For this particular subject I never thought in a million years that I would have to deal with any sort of trauma in regards to my children on a personal level. I can’t get into too much detail, but the last couple of weeks have been especially hard to muddle through. I thought that parenting special needs children normally was hard, but there is nothing harder than trying to get your children through trauma they have experienced themselves. We are used to a lot of things in this family; bullying, name calling, and a whole lot of ignorance. We have weathered every storm that has hit us, bunkered down and carried on. This storm though… this storm to date is our worst. This was our Katrina or Sandy. We are still at the ‘trying to rebuild’ stage of our lives. In time I will be able to expand, but for now it is what it is. The calm after this storm is the support through it all. We are all about being healthy inside and out. Maintaining communication and having open dialog when it’s needed. I want to believe that this storm will not have lasting effects on my children, but only time will tell.

If something has happened to yourself or your loved one Seek Help. Even if you don’t think your loved one will understand, there are psychologists that are trained to help those with cognitive disabilities with trauma. Any kind of trauma. As it is the special needs kiddos are the ones who are taken advantage of more often than not for the simple fact they just don’t understand, but they have these feelings they need help navigating through. Just because they might have a different reaction to trauma than the rest of us doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced it.

We take one day at time. Some days are good and some aren’t. I know in the end, we have the strength to keep moving forward, even if it is just putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.