The parents of children with special needs are often the victims of unanticipated stress disorders. In some cases, the level of stress becomes debilitating, which significantly impacts on the parent’s ability to properly care for a child.
According to Ann Logsdon, a school psychologist and Director of Disability Services at the University of Kentucky, “parents experience emotional challenges that are “often similar to those people commonly experience after a significant loss such as a divorce, loss of a job, or death of a loved one”. The initial period in which a parent first learns of the child’s disability can be the most traumatic.
Initially, many parents engage in a period of denial regarding the child’s disability. According to Langson, a result of the parent’s denial is the child often being “punished” for having a disability.
A second emotional reaction to the stress of having a child with even a minimal disability is anger. According to Langsdon, “Parents struggling with anger may become argumentative, demanding, and verbally aggressive when dealing with a child's underachievement”.
Another result of the stress is the parent entering into a stage where they blame others for the child’s disability. As Langsdon explains, “This stage is especially difficult and stressful when spouses disagree about the child's disability. Further, the blamer may be unable to get past blaming to focus on resolving the child's learning problems”.
Langsdon also suggests that grief is another result of factors related to the parent’s stress in coping with a child’s special needs. Langsdon points out that, “Parents who grieve over their children's disabilities are usually concerned that their children may struggle for the rest of their lives. They may worry that the child will not be successful in life because of the disability. Parents may feel new grief over the years if their children have difficulty at various milestones when other children succeed."
In order to support parents of children with special needs in their attempt to deal with the stress, the legislature has initiated a bill that would aid in providing the communication required to deal with that stress.
In the Assembly, Celeste Riley, Gabriela M. Mosquera amd Pamela Lampitt sponsored A4339. S2918, the comparable in the Senate, was sponsored by Fred Madden and Christopher Bateman.
The bill, which is designed to create a hotline for parents to communicate and discuss their challenges, moved expeditiously through both house of the Legislature. Originally introduced in the Assembly on September 9, 2013, the bill was referred to Pamela Lampitt’s Committee on Women and Children. Overwhelmingly, the bill was passed by the Assembly by a margin of 78-0-1 on December 19, 2013. On the same day, the Senate passed the bill by a margin of 34-0.
According to a statement that accompanied the bill:
“This bill establishes the “Mom2Mom Peer Support Program” helpline, which receives and responds to calls from mothers of children with special needs, and their families. The helpline is administered by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), in conjunction with University Behavioral HealthCare of Rutgers, the State University.
The bill provides for the training of helpline staff; the establishment of a list of credentialed resources and behavioral health care providers throughout the State to ensure that mothers, children, and their families receive ongoing counseling and a continuum of care in New Jersey; and consultation with various State agencies to ensure the quality of the assistance provided by the helpline program”.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of this bill will be the children with special needs whose lifetime success will depend on the objective support of family members and professionals.