I blamed myself for my child’s disability

I blamed myself for my child’s disability

Parents have to ensure that they do not let society’s misconceptions make them feel guilty. DR RADICA MAHASE

“I blamed myself for my child’s disability. I felt that as his mother, I must have done something wrong when I was pregnant with him. Maybe I ate too much junk food? Maybe I didn’t take the right vitamins or should have taken more vitamins? Maybe I did something wrong in the first year of his life?

“I mean, he was my first child, I didn’t know anything about taking care of a child, supposed I hit his head, or didn’t breastfeed him enough?

“My son is now five years old and the guilt I felt when we found out he had developmental issues is now gone. After years of reading up on my son’s disability and sessions of counselling, I am finally in the place where I accept my son fully and I don’t blame myself anymore. Instead, I just focus on him and helping him with his daily challenges.”

Natalie, the mom above, is just one of many parents who blame themselves for their children’s disabilities. Many parents feel a deep sense of guilt when their children experience developmental delays and often it takes some time to process feelings of guilt. Many parents blame themselves for their child’s disability. Why do parents blame themselves? For many, both mothers and fathers, a child with a disability is just not what they imagine their child would be or what they imagine parenthood would be.

Added to this is the fact that society in general places emphasis on the high achievers and there is the common misconception that children with disabilities will not be high achievers. The general perception, propagated by media, the education system, etc, is that children who are not high achievers are “less,” or are a “disappointment” and not as capable as contributing to society.

Sadly, as a society we always looking to place blame on someone or something – it is a dominant part of our social behaviour. Thus, parents of children with disabilities are made to feel they have brought “a lesser child” into this world.

One parent, Nigel, said, “When my son was born, I had a hard time accepting him. I felt like it was my fault, that maybe I passed on ‘bad’ genes to him.

“My neighbour organised counselling for me at the church nearby and I went and I regretted it. The pastor told me that I didn’t pray enough and that my child is paying for my sins. He said that the only way to ‘cure my child’ was to come to church regularly, make regular monetary contributions and let the pastor pray for her. He said that I had […]

What Is Parentification?

What Is Parentification?

Do you feel like you were pushed into taking care of your parents or siblings when you were only a child yourself? That you became an adult before you were ready for the role?

If you’re nodding, you may have been parentified. Being a “little parent” involves excessive responsibility or emotional burden that can impact a child’s development.

That said, it’s important to remember that some responsibility is a good thing. Helping out a parent on occasion and at the right level helps a child believe in themselves and their ability to one day also be an adult.

Let’s take a closer look at how and when the line into parentification is crossed.

In the typical order of things, parents give and children receive. Yes, sometimes — especially in the early morning hours when your baby is teething — the giving can seem never-ending.

But in general, parents are expected to give their children unconditional love and to take care of their physical needs (food, shelter, daily structure). Emotionally secure children whose physical needs are taken care of are then free to focus their energy on growing, learning, and maturing.

Sometimes, though, this gets reversed.

Instead of giving to their child, the parent takes from them. In this role reversal, the parent may relegate duties to the child. At other times, the child voluntarily takes them on.

Either way, the child learns that taking over the duties of the parent is the way to maintain closeness to them.

Children are pretty resilient. We’ve already said that some level of responsibility can help a child’s development — but 2020 research takes things further. The researchers suggest that sometimes, parentification can actually give a child feelings of self-efficacy, competence, and other positive benefits.

It seems that when a child feels positively about the person they’re caring for and the responsibilities that come with the role of caregiver, the child develops a positive self-image and feelings of self-worth. (Note that this isn’t a reason to pursue or justify parentification.)

Not all parents are able to take care of their children’s physical and emotional needs. In some families, the child takes over the role of caregiver in order to keep the family functioning as a whole.

Parentification can happen when a parent has a physical or emotional impairment, such as the following:

  • The parent was neglected or abused as a child.
  • The parent has a mental health condition.
  • The parent has an alcohol or substance use disorder.
  • The parent or a sibling is disabled or has a serious medical condition.

Parentification can also happen when life throws curveballs, like:

  • The parents are divorced or one parent has died.
  • The parents are immigrants and have difficulty integrating into society.
  • The family experiences financial hardship.

There are two types of parentification: instrumental and emotional.

Ease Your Child’s Mental Burden During These Difficult Times

Ease Your Child’s Mental Burden During These Difficult Times

The COVID-19 outbreak and consequent lockdowns have changed the way we function in the world and brought us face-to-face with a lot of uncertainty and fear. Children could possibly be the silent sufferers of the pandemic as they are too young to understand or process their thoughts and emotions, something that even adults have been struggling to navigate through in the past year. Toddlers and young children particularly need dedicated attention and care as the brain is still in the process of formation, and high stress and social isolation can lead to unwanted deep-seated issues later in life. Dr Neeraj Raj B, Consultant Psychiatrist, Aster RV Hospital, explains how the pandemic has impacted the little ones and how to ease their mental burden…

Impact Of The Pandemic On Little Ones

In one of the earliest studies conducted during the ongoing pandemic, it was found that younger children (three to six years old) were more likely than older children to exhibit symptoms of clinginess and feel dread about family members getting infected. Older youngsters ( six to 18 years old), on the other hand, were more prone to inattention. Sleep problems, nightmares, poor eating, irritability, inattention and separation anxiety have been commonly observed among children during the pandemic.

Guidelines For Parents To Ease Their Children’s Mental Burden

Toddlers and younger children demand and require more attention from their parents and it is a key part of their early development. Parents must set aside time to provide their undivided attention and reassurance to their kids. They need their parents’ physical presence and must be encouraged to engage in more indoor activities.

• Parents can explain the pandemic in an age-appropriate way, using simple terminology. Children can learn about safety precautions and their role in avoiding the spread of the virus. Role-playing, gentle reminders of COVID safety behaviour in a soothing and loving tone, fun cue cards and audiovisual material can be used. This will help the child feel more in control of the situation and ease stress.

• Good behaviour can be rewarded with positive reinforcement such as praise and loving statements. Avoid using material reinforcement.

• Negative reinforcement/punishment for bad behaviour must be avoided as far as possible. In such cases, simply ignore the child and do not give them any attention.

• Set a good example: Children look up to their parents and when parents are able to cope with stress better, that sets the child up for better emotional regulation in the future.

• Avoid heated discussion or debates, particularly about the COVID pandemic while at home. Children are silent absorbers and can easily be affected by such discussions even if they don’t openly express […]

Can puppets boost social skills for kids with autism?

Can puppets boost social skills for kids with autism?

Puppets can attract and hold the attention of children with autism spectrum disorder, raising the potential for developing more engaging therapies that strengthen social engagement and facilitate learning.

The new study in the journal Autism Research is the first to test anecdotal evidence that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), like most youngsters, pay attention to puppets.

In a series of experiments, researchers examined the visual attention patterns of young children with ASD, alongside a control group of typically developing children, in response to a video depicting a lively interaction between Violet, a brightly colored puppet, and a human counterpart.

The researchers found that the attention patterns of children with ASD were similar to those of children in the control group when Violet spoke, with both sets of children spending a similar proportion of time watching her face and exhibiting a strong preference for the talking puppet over the listening person.

“Children with autism are less likely to attend to and to engage emotionally with their social partners, which limits their exposure to a host of important learning opportunities and experiences,” says coauthor Katarzyna Chawarska, professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, and director of the National Institutes of Health Autism Center of Excellence at the Yale Child Study Center.

“In the present study, we found that while children with autism paid less attention than typically developing peers when an interactive partner was human, their attention was largely typical when the interactive partner was Violet, the puppet. Our findings highlight the attentional and affective advantages of puppets which, hopefully, can be harnessed to augment the therapeutic efforts in children with ASD.”

Puppets engage kids with autism

The researchers created the experiment in collaboration with Cheryl Henson, a daughter of celebrated puppeteer Jim Henson and president of the Jim Henson Foundation.

“For many years, I’ve observed how puppets can engage children with ASD in meaningful ways, often establishing an uncommonly emotional connection,” says Henson, who was a puppet builder on The Muppet Show and worked with Sesame Street in the 1990s, among other productions. “I was thrilled when the Yale Child Study Center expressed interest in conducting the first-ever clinical research exploring how puppets are seen by kids with ASD.

Autism and Grief: What to Do and How to Prepare

All parents dread the day they have to explain death to their kids. Grief and loss are difficult for anyone to experience, much less young children. Parents of kids with autism may be even more worried about how to help them cope. Although this conversation will never be easy, there are things you can do to help prepare your child. How do you tell an autistic child about death?

People on the autism spectrum often have a hard time grasping abstract concepts, so it’s important to be as clear as possible.

Here are some tips:

Don’t use euphemisms

Expressions like “he went to sleep,” “he passed away,” “he went to Heaven,” and “we lost him” can be confusing to a child with autism. Most autistic people tend to interpret language literally, so your child might wonder why he/she can’t visit Heaven, become scared of going to sleep, or just not understand what’s happened.

Explain what death is

Depending on how old your son or daughter is, he/she might not have any concept of death. Use simple, honest words when talking about it. Tell him/her that death is the end of life, and it happens to all living things. Make it clear that death is permanent, but that you’ll always have the memories of that person. You could use examples from nature or fictional media to make it concrete. Explain how the person died

An (age-appropriate) explanation of what causes death is essential to your child’s understanding. You might say that the person was old enough to die, that he/she became very sick, or he/she got hurt very badly and the doctors couldn’t help.

Just be sure to differentiate between a typical illness or injury and a life-threatening one. A child might be scared if he/she thinks that a cold or scraped knee is enough to cause death.

Be open to questions

Your kid with autism might have a lot of questions, like whether he/she will die, whether you will die, and what happens to someone when he/she dies. Many children ask the same questions over and over while processing information, so be patient. Be honest in your responses and don’t be afraid to admit when you’re unsure about something.

Both autistic and neurotypical children may not understand the concept right away, so think of learning about loss as a process rather than a singular moment. It could take weeks or months for your child to fully understand what’s happened. Prepare your child if you know the death is coming

Some deaths are sudden, but other times, a friend or relative has been sick for a while. Don’t wait until he/she has passed away to talk to your child. For one thing, your […]

Tips to help kids with autism transition back to in-person school

Tips to help kids with autism transition back to in-person school

MIND Institute experts offer advice to help with the change, as well as what’s likely to be different in the classroom this year

Heading back to school after summer break can be tough for some students, but this year is unique. Because of the pandemic, distance learning and hybrid schedules have been the norm for over a year, and many kids haven’t spent a full, regular week at school since March of 2020.

For children with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences, transitions like this can be extra challenging. “Routines are important for kids, and the long absence from the classroom, the mask-wearing and other changes mean they have to learn an entirely new school routine,” said Patricia Schetter, a board-certified behavior analyst who coordinates the Autism Education Initiatives for the Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Kids and masks

“The biggest thing I’ve been working on with patients throughout this pandemic is mask-wearing,” said Erin Engstrom, a licensed clinical psychologist at the MIND Institute who specializes in anxiety treatment for kids with neurodevelopmental conditions. “Masks themselves are a big transition. For some kids, it’s wearing the mask – especially for a long period of time. For others, it’s seeing other people, like teachers and cafeteria staff, wearing masks. I have patients who are venturing out for the first time in awhile and they have expressed a lot of uncertainty about seeing everyone wearing masks. That can be challenging to process,” Engstrom explained.

How to help: To get students used to wearing a mask, have them wear one at home for a short period and gradually increase it to a significant period of time. This social story, a step-by-step guide with photos about wearing masks from the MIND Institute may help. This guide for helping kids get comfortable with masks is also useful.