Balancing Playtime & Therapy Time: Special Needs Living

Sheri Reed

mother child hands

Most moms struggle with finding balance between providing their children enough time to play and enough opportunities for growth and learning. When your child is special needs, this balance is all the more complicated because those opportunities include therapies that are vital to your child's ability to thrive and learn.

This week in Special Needs Living, CafeMom aurorabunny, mom to 3-year old Brody, who has autism, talks about her struggle to find balance and some time in which to just be Brody's mom.

Special Needs & Packed Schedules

by aurorabunny

When my son Brody was under 3 years old (the cutoff age for in-home therapies provided by the state), we had worked our way up to almost 30 hours per week of in-home therapy.  There were therapists in and out of our house every single day, mostly from 9-5 with short breaks in between. People always asked me how I did it, and I would tell them that it wasn't THAT hard. But looking back now, after learning what I've learned about the schedules of many other children with special needs, I should have told them that it was easy as pie.

Many children with special needs (and obviously their parents as well) have schedules that would fry the batteries out of an electronic organizer in about a week flat. Some of these therapies are obviously VERY vital, and I'm fully aware that even the parents who have their children's schedules booked from dusk until dawn have the very best intentions. However, there is always a point, no matter the disability, where I have to wonder if too much helping can turn into hurting. Toeing that line can be more difficult than one might think.

When I first found out that Brody was the only child in his class at school (a class designed especially for children with autism) who did not receive other therapies outside of the daily autism program, I felt pretty inadequate. I've always tried so hard to find available opportunities for him but obviously I've not been doing enough. Most of his classmates attend the 3-hour daily program that Brody is a member of, then return to their towns and attend afternoon sessions with their local school districts, only to return home for more in-home therapy in the evening. Keep in mind that most of my son's peers are 2 years old. I'm exhausted just thinking about that schedule! 

And that's when I was hit with a realization, one that I had made some time ago and unfortunately forgot about. Therapy and specially tailored teaching is essential to our children; and so is getting the time to actually BE children. When Brody first received his autism diagnosis, I was rabid for information and for help. I signed him up for every therapy I could find, saw special doctors with special diet and supplement plans, and stayed up every night until the wee hours reading as much information as I could get my hands on. As if that wasn't enough, I was determined to play therapist at every moment that his actual therapists weren't able to be here. The burn-out happened quickly, and it wasn't only on my end. Sooner rather than later I became resentful of never having a day to just take my son to the park and tired of feeling guilty for playing with Brody instead of "working" with him. I noticed that Brody didn't seem too happy either.

After remembering all of this, I'm pleased to be able to say that I've regained a better sense of balance and returned to my role of being "just mom" who doesn't feel inadequate for not being a 24/7 therapist to her child. The therapists and teachers in my son's life are priceless; they help us in more ways than I have room to write about, and I know that Brody might always need a certain level of intervention to even be able to learn basic life skills. And I'll always help him with those things as best as I can. But first and foremost, I'm going to be his mom. The things that I've seen him discover and the things that we've discovered about each other through "just playing" are every bit as valuable and much more meaningful to me than anything I ever witnessed when I was playing therapist.

How do you find balance between providing enough playtime and/or downtime and enough therapeutic and/or other educational opportunities for your child?


Previous Special Needs Living posts from aurorabunny:

The Holidays & Autism: Special Needs Living

The Autism-Vaccine Controversy: Special Needs Living

Sick Special Needs Kid Woe

Announcing Autism

What NOT to Say About Autism

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