It is not uncommon that parents and caregivers of children with special needs face a barrage of challenges including physical and mental disorders. Experts unequivocally indicate that most parents express times of loneliness, exhaustion and increased stress as they go through periods of sadness, adjustment or other difficulties. “Therefore, there is a strong ground to contemplate a mechanism to help such a vulnerable group of family caregivers”, suggests a report by Sultan Qaboos University (SQU).
Many studies have emerged examining who is likely to be more affected — mother or father — by caring for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Some studies appear to suggest that mothers are likely to bear the brunt of having a child with special needs. Others have pointed to orthogonal types of difficulties encountered by mother and father.
But the study conducted by Omar al Farsi, Yahya al Farsi, Marwan al Sharbati and Samir al Adawi from SQU and the School of Public Health in the United States appears to endorse both the father and mother as affected.
As family is central to traditional Omani society, much of the leisure time is spent within the family circle, extended family, or clan members.
“As common social behaviour in Oman is geared towards group affiliation and interdependence within one’s family circle, it should therefore be expected that both parents are likely to play a part in the welfare of their children”, the study points out.
The study appears to suggest that despite socio-cultural prescription, caring for children with special needs is likely to increase the level of distress to the parent — an observation that resonates with studies reported elsewhere.
All indices of stress, depression and anxiety were higher in caregivers of ASD compared to other caregivers in the control group.
According to Special Learning Inc, a global leader in special autism solutions, parents of children with special needs face a lot of problems including societal isolation, financial strain, difficulty finding resources to outright exhaustion or feelings of confusion or burn out.
“Periods of experiencing these types of emotions, especially during difficult times, do not necessarily signify clinical or even situational depression”, the agency says in a report.
Over time, if these circumstances are not addressed and relief is not found a cognitive and, sometimes, biological change may start to take place, it adds.
Chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine regulate our responses to pleasure, hurt and help us navigate our emotions/perceptions of the world around us begin to decrease as we chronically experience negative emotions and/or situations.
This means it will become harder and harder for an individual to bounce back or return to “normal functioning”.
“The longer we’re exposed to stress or negative emotions and thinking, the less able we become at coping with those feelings”, the report points out.
What may have started out as merely occasional, typical reactions to overwhelming circumstances becomes a day to day struggle to function and handle life as it comes. Symptoms of depression may not necessarily signify a diagnosis of depression, but it definitely should be a red flag.
The most challenging step of helping parents of children with special needs deal is first helping them recognise the signs of depression and identify their own symptoms.