Mental Health and Caring for Children with Special Needs

Why you need to carve out time for yourself for the benefit of all

We are steadily getting closer to an age during which people understand that intervention for your mental health is just as important as intervention for your physical body (we won’t even cover in this newsletter how mental and physical health is extrinsically linked). May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while this is important for everyone, we wish to focus specifically on the mental health of parents of children with special needs. These parents—YOU—sacrifice and do so much, and we see you, each and every day. Read on for some insights into what you can do to help the feelings of chaos you may experience on the daily.

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Not What I Expected

This book includes practical solutions for parents of children with special needs who struggle with daily challenges that create a variety of emotional stresses.

Product: Compression Vest

Compression vests are functional and effective for children who may benefit from deep, compression input. Talk to your child’s OT to see if this product may be effective in everyday activities in the home setting!

For other product ideas that target improved sensory processing, oral motor and language skills, please ask to “shop” at CTC’s very own product table, located within our clinic!

Caring for Your Child…and Yourself

Strategies to help prioritize your mental health as a parent

Mental health is no longer a taboo term, and it’s about time. The topic has increasingly been entering into mainstream culture and discussions, which is of value to our society in so many ways. For one, it indicates the importance of mental health professionals’ roles in the community. It also reduces potential shame and embarrassment that those who suffer from poor mental health often feel. In the realm of pediatric therapy, mental health is of considerable importance, particularly for parents of children with special health needs. According to research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), parents of children with special health needs report poorer self-rated mental health, greater depressive symptoms and more restrictions in activities of daily living.*

Caring for a child with special health needs generally requires more time, resources and patience than parents of typically-developing children. Therapy often occurs multiple days of the week with two or more disciplines (i.e., speech, OT, PT, ABA, social work, etc.), therapy in school requires additional assessments and IEP meetings, and patience is stretched thin for parents who wait significantly extended periods of time for their child to achieve milestones that their peers mastered long before. In addition, parents of children with specialized needs often need to take on the roles of nurse and advocate, which further adds to stress and overload.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions certainly have not made things easier for any parents. When lock-down occurred, children receiving therapies and academic support were stripped of all outside assistance, including their parents, who relied on these services to help manage their child’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive needs. The lack of structure at home and difficulties with any virtual therapies further exacerbated stress levels that were already heightened to begin with, making most parents of children with special needs feeling abandoned and suffocated.

Find a therapist

Seeing a therapist for difficulties with processing emotions is something all parents of children with special needs should consider– without shame or embarrassment. Helpful therapies might include: psychodynamic therapy, or “talk therapy”; cognitive-behavioral therapy, a strategy-based approach; or couples therapy, since romance is often the first aspect of a couple’s relationship to be sacrificed when caring for a child with special needs is a priority.

Research an appropriate therapist via personal recommendations of other parents you may know, or via online group forums. Finding a therapist that you “click” with may take a few attempts, so do not hesitate to search for a different therapist if the one you’re working with doesn’t seem like a good fit.

Ask for help

This one is hard for many parents, which is understandable considering that many children have needs that make separating from parents extremely difficult, whether it be for a behavioral or physical reason. However, think

Speech and Hearing Month Activities

Incorporate speech-language activities all month (and year) long!


Ask your child a variety of wh-questions to help them differentiate between wh-meanings and engage in turn-taking conversation. Your child may respond verbally, via sign language or via their AAC device. Examples include: “What’s your favorite color?” “Where do we shop for food?” and “Why do we use an umbrella?”

Naming items in categories

See how many items your child can name in various categories such as, “Things you see at a beach,” “Forest animals,” “sweet foods,” etc. You can also name 2-3 items and see if your child can name the category that they belong in (e.g., “What makes apples, kiwis and peaches alike?)


Ask your child questions regarding sequencing, such as, “How do you make a peanut butter sandwich?” while making lunches or, “Tell me what happened in that story” after finishing a book together. Help them include words such as, first, next, then, and last.

Describing attributes

Make a game out of seeing how many words your child can use to describe various things in your environment. Descriptors may relate to color, shape, size, texture, etc.

of ways in which someone can provide any assistance that would save you time, stress or sanity and ask if they would be able to lend a helping hand. Maybe help looks like a family member watching a sibling while you drop your child off at therapy and take some alone time to yourself at a nearby coffee shop; or it may look like asking a friend to pick up your Target order because your child is having a major meltdown and is refusing to transition to the car. Help doesn’t have to be momentous to be beneficial.

Incorporate mindfulness

While mindfulness may seem like another recent buzzword that is easily thrown around, the benefits that many gain from incorporating mindfulness into their daily lives is not something to be ignored. Essentially, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. If you’ve ever participated in a mindfulness-based exercise, it is common for a narrative guide to instruct you to sit or lay in a comfortable position and become aware of your breath and the sensations of your body. In doing so, you are quieting your mind and creating a mind-body connection that has been shown to improve blood pressure, heart health and cognitive status in many who regularly engage in the practice.

Try to carve out some time during your day to practice mindfulness; perhaps you can swap with your partner sometime during your daily routines so that you both have an opportunity to have a quiet moment to yourself to breathe deeply and clear your head. The benefits you can reap as a parent are plentiful!

Seek out a support system

Research support groups that may be available in your area, whether in-person or virtually, that are specifically made up of parents of children with special needs. Having access to a group of people who are undergoing similar parental experiences as you can be a game changer in your outlook and mood. Support group experiences can look like meeting up at a coffee shop and chatting about really hard, challenging issues that involve tears and hugs, and it can also look like meeting up a restaurant and letting loose with laughter and conversations that have nothing to do with parenthood. In both scenarios, the camaraderie of like-minded individuals is a level of support that can let you vent and lift your spirits.

Having a support group also allows you to ask for and share advice regarding common situations that arise among parents of children with special needs. One parent might have excellent tips regarding how they get their child to transition from one activity to the next with minimal distress while another may have some great input on how to get their picky eater to try new foods.


*Smith, A. M., & Grzywacz, J. G. (2014). Health and well-being in midlife parents of children with special health needs. Families, Systems, & Health, 32(3), 303–312.