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How Parenting a Child With a Disability Helped Me Stay Calm When COVID-19 Changed the World

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In the midst of attempting to get used to the new “normal” in our world, I have been reflecting on the months of sheltering in place with my husband, son and daughter. We had lots of time to think and ponder the many things we took for granted in our everyday lives.

But in the midst of this family “reset,” I came to realize that when the world as we knew it shut down, an overwhelming sense of calm entered my entire being. It was so very strange to my kids and husband, and they commented on how when everyone around us—friends, family—were completely frantic over the new rules that now governed our lives, I was even  calmer than on a typical day.

You know why?

As a parent of a child with a disability, I have learned to thrive under stressful, uncertain circumstances. Not just thrive — but also create calm within myself and my family so we can move forward. So in the past few months of re-tooling our lives, I have come to the conclusion that these are some of the reasons many parents of children with disabilities reacted differently to COVID-19:

  1. We are accustomed to the unknown.
    When we learned that our child was not typically developing, we started upon a journey unlike anything we had encountered prior to this little human coming into our world. We were in uncharted territory, and we took one blind step in front of the other trying to navigate our way in the dark. We didn’t know how to enter this world, but we did. We had no choice.
  1. We are good at “survival mode.”
    Survival mode in special parenting is a period of time that we research, find all that we can out about our child’s disability, and think about it day and night. Sometimes this lasts weeks, months, years, and for some, a lifetime. These days in survival mode are filled with carrying the weight of a backpack we never had to carry before: it’s uncomfortable at first, and we will do anything to put it down. But in a very short period of time, we start to fill this backpack with knowledge— statistics, trends, symptoms, treatments and physicians that may be able to guide us on this road. Sound familiar?
  1. We are flexible.
    We have had the luxury of making plans for our families that have to be derailed because our child needs something. We become masters of navigating change—it becomes part of our “plan.” There is always a back-up, because you don’t know what type of issue is around the corner. We learn to embrace being flexible and mark it as a skill in our backpack.
  1. We are decision makers.
    We are used to making new decisions—because when we started this journey, we began to take one step in front of the other, with no direction. We had to trust our new special parent instincts and choose treatments, professionals and procedures that we had no point of reference to look back to for guidance. We have to trust our gut and take a step forward, and learn from the wrong turns and roads we have taken.
  2. We know we need others.
    Because most of us entered this journey in shock and not having any type of direction, we learned very early on that we have to trust professionals and those who have walked this journey before us. This knowing and accepting help from others to guide us is not easy for us—as we are used to being the ones in charge and helping. Then, all of a sudden when our child enters our world, we learn very early on that we have to rely on help from others, even when it is difficult.

As the world slowly opens back up with a “new normal” emerging, and some people fearing a bigger, more scary second wave of COVID-19, we have an advantage that others might not—we will be ready.

We are always ready.

Originally published: September 17, 2020
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