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Special Needs Awareness

The Special Needs of Special Needs Parents

Taking Care of Children with Special Needs Includes Taking Care of You

February 01, 2011
The Special Needs of Special Needs Parents

As parents, lets admit it—we're exhausted. Now imagine you're the parent of a child with special needs on top of it, the word "exhaustion" seems too trivial to describe how you feel some days. So, my job as a full time physician and mom to two children, one of whom is autistic, is to help you find ways to take care of yourself in order for you to continue to care for your special children without burnout. I'll be honest, there are days I struggle to do anything on this list, I'm human, too, after all. But after years of trial and error, I have grown this foundation of self care so that days when I fall off of self-preservation, it's not so hard to get back up.

Sleep. I have a dream…of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep, it is so basic, yet so crucial and paramount to our overall health and well being. Studies have shown chronic sleep deprivation leads to early dementia, obesity, cardiac disorders, and the list goes on. Are you constantly grabbing caffeine to keep up with the demands of your life? It probably means you're not getting enough sleep. Caffeine can take up to 8 hours to clear the body, so switch to decaf after lunch, drink water, turn your bedroom into a sleep-only sanctuary by keeping it dark and cool, turn off the TV and world, and like your mom said—go to sleep.

Optimism. Likewise, Nat King Cole once sang "Smile," optimism even in the face of adversity is an extremely powerful tool. I find when things in my life are not ideal, I can waste a lot of energy feeling down or I can put a smile on my face, believe in the happier alternative, and most of the time I forget the reason why I was sad to begin with. There will be days when you are overwhelmed or feel as if you've failed as a parent. My advice in these times is to learn from those moments, do not be consumed by them, pick yourself up, try again and move forward. Human optimism has won over the darkest fears, wars, despair, and is always free and readily available.

Support. Do you know your limits? It is never wrong to ask for help. Look for support groups—allies understand what you're going through. Surround yourself with kind, positive people, and return the favor. Find your spirituality and don't be afraid to lean on it. Take time to connect and don't forget the importance of laughing with others.

Health. Exercise daily as it releases endorphins that act as natural stimulants. Eat more fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Be aware that carbohydrates and processed food act as natural depressants. Drink more water and take quality vitamins. Get an annual physical and take care of your body. These simple things will go a long way in preventing physical burnout and fatigue.

Nurture yourself. I have practiced this since the grueling days of my medical training: Every week I have a designated two-hour block of "me" time. Whether it be watching a movie, taking a nap, reading a book uninterrupted, getting a massage, soaking in the tub—whatever—it's a time to remember that I am more than just a parent, wife, or a physician, I am also my own self. I feel that this self indulgent time always allows me to recharge and better appreciate the demands of my life. So remember your well being and take care of yourself as you travel down this journey of parenthood—it's what your kids would want you to do.

Dr. Sara Wine is board certified in Family Medicine. She recently joined the St.Vincent Physician Network in Fishers and is accepting new patients of all ages. She received her medical degree from Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her residency at Munson Medical Center / Michigan State University. Dr. Wine practices integrative medicine emphasizing the use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative. Dr. Wine has a special interest in providing primary care to special needs children and their families with a focus on children with autism. For more information call 317-415-6110.

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Tags: Special Needs

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