Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

December 30, 2011

Building Relationships

“If the cabin loses pressure during the flight, your oxygen mask will drop down in front of you and you will need to first put your oxygen mask on before assisting someone else,” the airline stewardess pleasantly stated.  I’m certain you’ve heard this before because before takeoff on an airplane the flight attendants always warn adults to put on their own oxygen masks before helping children to do the same!  I think that this is a good metaphor for supporting a child who has special needs.  Why?  Because in order to take good care of your child you also need to take good care of yourself!

You can’t do it on your own. 

Raising a child with special needs is challenging and I firmly believe that you can’t do it on your own.  I can vividly remember those days as a single parent with three boys on the autism spectrum…it was challenging to say the least!  The one thing that helped me get through my day-to-day role as a parent was that I surrounded myself with supportive people.

Due to the number of multi-faceted tasks associated with caring for children with special needs, I discovered along life’s journey that I needed social/emotional support…an oxygen mask…in order to remain mentally healthy, improve my caregiving skills and be able to remain active in my caregiving role. The support services I needed included information, assistance, counseling, respite, home modifications, assistive devices, support groups and family counseling, among others.

Unfortunately, in the “real world” there is little consistency from local agencies as to how these services are delivered, and who delivers them.   Regardless of these challenges you need a team of supportive people who will act as your “oxygen mask:”

A good parent/caregiver support team includes:

  1. Family and Friends – They can provide emotional air and help serve as your extended eyes, hands, and legs to help you get things done.
  2. A general doctor educated about your child’s special needs (i.e., autism, down syndrome, etc.)  – many doctors admittedly are not specifically trained about autism or other special needs.  You want to find someone who understands your child’s needs and someone who is genuinely compassionate.  There’s nothing worse than dealing with a doctor who has no compassion or clue with what you are going through.   Remember, you are your child’s advocate.  You want a capable and caring doctor on your team.  Nothing less.
  3. Local Organizations –  there are a variety of excellent resource organizations (ASGO, UCF CARD, Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida, etc.).    They can provide educational materials, listings of support groups, caregiver resources, including info about after school programs, respite services, grants, and more.  I recommend getting on their mailing list to stay in the loop of ALL their offerings, which can include upcoming conferences, speakers, fundraiser events, and more.
  4. Professional Counselor – sometimes individual counseling for problems and crisis resolution, grief, anger management, depression, divorce recovery, or anxiety is needed.  If so, places like the First Orlando Counseling Center have a great group of mental health professionals who can assist you.
  5. Supportive Faith Community – your heavenly Father did not design you to go at life alone.  A supportive community of faith like First Baptist Orlando can provide the nurture, encouragement, prayer, faith, and fellowship that can serve as your “oxygen mask!”  Our Special Friends Ministry provides your child with special needs a safe, supportive, and structured environment so that parents can attend worship service and be loved, encouraged, and build up their spiritual strength.

I’ve had my fair share of days where being a caregiver felt like a very lonely endeavor.  I’ll bet you know exactly how that feels.  If you do, then I’m here to help you connect with others who know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.  If you need help finding local organizations or a supportive faith community then email me, and together, we’ll find some support!

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods

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