The parenting experience is warm, fulfilling yet full of challenges at times. Sleepless nights, and days worrying about the young one's safety and needs, stress is a normal part of the parenting experience. Many parents with developing children face daily life issues that contribute to their stress.
Moreover, having a child with an intellectual disability can impose further financial, social and physical stress on the family. Research has shown that children with disabilities experience greater stress than caregivers without intellectual disabilities. Although several factors can contribute to the increased stress experienced by caregivers of children with delays, the severity of the child's behavioural problems is often the strongest predictor of parental stress.
World Health Organization defines Neurodevelopmental disorders as disabilities in the brain's functioning that affect a child's behaviour, memory or ability to learn, e.g. Dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mental retardation, learning deficits and Autism. These disorders can significantly reduce the power of the child to understand new or complex information and learn and apply new skills. This results in a reduced ability to cope independently.
From feeding the child to putting the child to bed requires patience, care, energy, multitasking for every parent, but, for parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders, even the simplest of tasks can pose different types of challenges.
Psychologist Shipra Lamba notes that in the year 2020, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic her clients who had children with neurodevelopmental disorders seemed very stressed out. Although all parents shared their feelings of anxiety and stress, parents of children with developmental disorders seemed more anxious about their future, finances, family dynamics, etc.
The lockdown may have influenced their stress levels because the families have been at home for a month without the support of daycare, daily helpers, nannies, therapies, etc.
"Problems don't make us weak. It is how we deal with them that decides our fate. Many emerge stronger after fighting battles than those only pampered in life." says Shipra.
The experience of stress is also dependent on how individuals perceive their situation and how it is dealt with. She added that many parents remain resilient despite challenges. She also shared that some parents may feel that being a parent of a child with disorders brings an increased sense of purpose and priorities, expanded personal and social networks, increased spirituality, source of family unity and closeness, increased tolerance and understanding, increased personal growth and strength, etc.
Successful coping strategies can be deployed to mitigate the detrimental effects of parenting stress on caregiving, the parent-child relationship, and the duo's future outcomes.
Many studies have concluded that high levels of parenting stress may impair warm, responsive parenting and provoke harsh reactive caregiving. Parenting stress also negatively influences the parent-child relationship, and it is predictive of non-optimal social, emotional and cognitive outcomes for children and adolescents.
As we understand that childhood plays a significant role in shaping a person's personality, it becomes very important for a parent to take care of their well-being and children.
"The most important inheritance that I want to leave for my child is my healing." Shipra Lamba
We have also talked to a specialist regarding this issue.
Dr Gorika Bansal, DNB Paediatrics, DCH, MBBS says, "Parents of children with disabilities commonly experience more mental health challenges related to parental stress, anxiety and depression than parents of children without disabilities. Studies reveal that there is a relationship between family functioning, quality of life and characteristics common to children with a range of NDD disabilities and parental stress levels. It is also known that parents with ADHD themselves have a weaker sense of coherence and poorer family functioning than parents without ADHD, and support from health services is strongly associated with a positive effect on family functioning".
Shipra suggests that better social support, empathetic understanding from other family members, sharing of tasks and responsibilities, removal of stigmas, adaptability, psycho-education, involvement with other parents with similar experiences, being aware of how they are affected and taking care of self, reaching out to professionals, involving the child in required therapies can help these parents take better care of their children and themselves.
"We can only give what we have, and we can only teach what we know, one of those things is happiness", concludes Shipra.