When your car breaks down, it’s frustrating. There you are, on the side of the road, with other cars whizzing past, and you’re stuck. You need to get somewhere, like to work, school, or an appointment, and now you have to find an alternate mode of travel. Or maybe your car will run, but it’s unreliable. It has to be repeatedly jump-started, sometimes working but sometimes refusing to operate. It’s a continual nuisance.
Imagine being housed in a body that doesn’t function properly. Imagine watching other children run past in a blur, while you sit, stuck. Or think about how it might be to have a mind that works differently from others, and nobody really “gets” you. The aggravation involved in being a child with special needs must be overwhelming at times. Our body, and how it functions, is our “vehicle” used to experience life.
Even children with fairly profound disabilities may at some point come to the realization that life has dealt them a cruel hand. Children on the autism spectrum often reach this awareness during puberty. Cognitively they start to recognize that they simply do not “operate” like everybody else. It feels tremendously unfair. And, frankly, it is.
There are things we can do as parents to help our special kids through depression:
- Seek out and foster talents. I’m convinced that every child has a talent, even if it’s a spiritual connection made with others. As parents, we need to observe and take note of what particular gifts our child has, and actively nurture them. My autistic son draws quite well, so I purchased a binder and filled it with hundreds of clear page protectors for him to insert his drawings. Many times I have asked to see his book, and we sit down together and talk about the things he’s drawn.
- Don’t minimize the disability, but emphasize that your child is amazing and tough enough to handle it. The “spin” you put on the situation can make a world of difference. For example, in a previous blog I shared my childhood experience with stuttering. My mother said to me, “It’s because you’re so smart and your brain works so quickly, your mouth has a hard time keeping up.” I took her words literally. I began to believe that I stuttered because I was gifted. Those words shaped my self-image at a time when I was awkwardly displaced from other kids. How grateful I am that she painted my stuttering this way. Today, I explain to my son with diabetes that he is a truly courageous boy to face this lifelong challenge, and that few teenagers could handle it as superbly as he does. I tell my daughter with ADHD that when she learns to manage her inattention, she’ll be able to write books about it to help others.
- Keep your child actively involved in stimulating new activities. It’s more difficult to be depressed when you are busy. Take your child on “field trips” where he can experience new and wonderful things. Go to a fish hatchery. Go to the beach or lake. Spend time at library, reading books. Go to concerts, and just plain walk. Exercise creates endorphins that brighten a person’s mood.
- Investigate medications or herbal remedies. If the depression is more than a passing phase, it may be time to seek medical help. See a doctor specializing in your child’s disorder, and discuss the symptoms of depression you see. Medication may be a viable option for treating your child. It has been suggested that Prozac can be particularly effective for kids on the autism spectrum. Your child is a unique individual regardless of her disability, and you will have to figure out what works for her. New discoveries are being made, and you should be aware of what is available.
To find articles about new medications, research, and treatments, visit the National Library of Medicine PubMed at www.ncbi.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi. Use the search engine to find abstracts of articles you’d like to read about. The site has tutorials and instructions on how to perform more advanced searches.