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Time to let the 'special-needs' ball drop

Posted Feb 06 2013 8:56pm

Most families of young children are accomplished jugglers. We juggle work, school, childcare, doctors' appointments, housework, as well as social and family obligations. Most families struggle to get through the day, to fall asleep at night only to wake up and do it all again the next morning.

My family is no exception. Except, we have two children with two different special needs and a slew of specialists that help us out. So we juggle many different appointments in our family as well.

We regularly see a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist as well as a couple of pediatricians. We are also regularly referred to different specialists, go for all kinds of testing at different hospitals and have a couple of regular appointments at different medical clinics.

Don’t forget the many appointments for illness and injury! They really do add up. At one point I was in the emergency room with one child or another on a biweekly basis. During one exceptionally busy period we were at three different hospitals in a 24-hour-period. We are busy.

I know there are families who do much more, and there are families who do less. My point is that families of children with special needs are very busy.

A visit at any medical clinic waiting room finds parents on their phones with work, trying to stay connected with the workplace while taking care of their children. It’s a juggling act. And sometimes the balls are dropped.

Appointments are forgotten or missed. The stuff of life – laundry, dishes, meals – pile up waiting to be done. There is only so much any one person can do, and we all know about the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I know my family has reached burn-out on a few occasions. We were trying to do too much in too little time. Burn-out means we are all exhausted and miserable; stressed and anxious, waiting for the next appointment.

I remember one warm spring day when I refused to let my kids play in a park while we ate our lunch because we had to drive to another appointment soon. The kids sat in the minivan with the windows down, eating take-out and strapped in their car seats. I was stressed, worried about making it to the next appointment on time. It was something else to check off on my to-do list. I wasn’t thinking about who the appointment was for or why it was critical.

And now I can’t remember what the appointment was for, or what the result was. But I do remember that day, and how my four-year-old son wanted to go walk on the grass under some trees.

I learned from that day. That appointment was for my son, and what's important is that he experiences the many things in life beyond a clinic’s walls – sunshine, green grass, spring flowers and those tall trees. There is more to life than medical appointments. I need to remember this.

Next time, I'll cancel at the last minute and say we're all sick. Unprofessional, yes, but essential for life.

Angela is a special-education teacher and special-needs parent who blogs at  Half past normal .
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