Tag Archives: PTSD and parenting special needs children

Can Your Pediatric Patient’s Parents Have PTSD?

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I wrote a post about the common complications seen with long-term neonatal medical issues The Subtle Ways Chronic Medical Care Affects Infant and Toddler Development, but the rest of the family isn’t immune to trauma reactions.  A difficult pregnancy or delivery, the shock of a unexpected genetic disorder diagnosis, or the crises that arise in the NICU all weigh heavily on parents too.

Most pediatric therapists aren’t seeing children in the NICU or the hospital.  We are in the home, the clinic or the school.  Acute medical issues are few and far between in these settings.  But the effects of trauma can continue to color treatment long after a child is medically stable.  What looks like a personality problem or a poor fit between therapist and a family can really be PTSD that hasn’t been acknowledged and treated.  Many parents are so focused on therapy for their child that they won’t even consider that they need to help themselves as well.  This should change.

The following are only a few of the common scenarios that can be the result of untreated parental PTSD:

  1. Parents who ask for a therapist’s guidance and then question the recommendations repeatedly.  When the medical picture changes rapidly in a crisis, and multiple doctors give conflicting recommendations or predictions, parents become gun-shy about anything any professional tells them later on.  Even though their experience with therapists may have been positive, the stain spreads around.
  2.  Families that withhold information from therapists, and may even resist open communication between team members.  See #1.  “Splitting” is a common response from people who are convinced that controlling other people protects them in some way.  It also sustains drama and focuses attention away from issues that are painful, such as the lack of a child’s progress or the final diagnosis.
  3. Signs of common illnesses create high levels of anxiety and agitation.  Parents that have witnessed resuscitation and emergency surgeries can become absolutely distraught over a URI.  The memory of a child gasping for breath or being unresponsive is so painful that a common cold brings it all back.
  4. Parents who are developing addictions or whose addictions are increasing in severity.  A mother who is anorexic, a father who is using prescription drugs or alcohol more frequently, or a parent who is spending more time online than is healthy may be responding to their pain in ways that are dangerous for them and their family.

Parents are essential allies in therapy, and it is important to support them as well as our pediatric patients.  Some kind and compassionate words can go a long way, and even sharing this post with a parent may help them think about finding support to address the pain that they are holding onto, long after they have left the hospital.

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Parents of Formerly Picky Eaters Can Feel Like The (Food) War is Still Going On

What do parents of children who have had successful treatment for oral sensory sensitivity have in common with Vietnam veterans? Parts of them do not know that the war is over.

Raising a child that can become unglued over the texture or taste of a new food is like walking through a minefield. As a pediatric OT, I have seen many children make amazing progress. The toddler who once grimaced while watching his mom eat a piece of chicken now grabs it from her hand and stuffs it into his mouth. The baby who screamed when cereal fell onto her hands is now happily swishing it around the high chair tray.

It’s the parent that is still frozen in fear. PTSD is something that people assume only happens to victims of crimes or war. Wrong. The daily emotional rollercoaster of dealing with sensory issues in young children (and older ones too, to be honest) can leave parents with all the signs of PTSD. Anticipating problems, recalling the worst mealtime blowups even when things are going well now, feeling anxious even as your child munches down a snack happily. And reacting to any minor and non-sensory complains with an internal “Oh, here we go again, I knew it would come back!”

It makes sense to me. The stress seemed to never end because the meals kept on coming. You never know if it will be a horror or an easy meal. The level of reaction your child exhibits is not always the same, so you wonder what will happen. All the time. And you feel as if no one could possibly understand how this feels. You feel alone and on edge. The next meal could be the worst, so you have to be prepared for it.

If this description fits you, please don’t think that you are alone. You are not. Good therapy can help your child learn to manage their reactions to food and mealtime. It really can. But you may need some support too. Seek it out, and reject any professional that tells you to just relax. You would have relaxed if you could have. You have been through a lot, and sometimes getting some support helps.