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The loneliness of being a 'special needs' parent is real

What 'special needs' parents want other parents to know.

The loneliness of being a 'special needs' parent is real
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For many people, becoming a parent opens the door to new communities. A secret language is unlocked through shared experiences and you find you have so much in common with these fellow parents that used to be strangers. Your kids are different people, but they are doing the same things. You're on the same path.

But when you're parenting a child whose brain or body works differently it can feel like the shared language of parenting is a foreign tongue. A diagnosis can feel like your membership card is being revoked or like you're being forced to walk alone.

As a mom in Australia recently put it, "the hardest part of being a special needs parent is the isolation." That mother went viral for opening up about the overwhelming loneliness she felt after her son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). What she felt is a common experience for parents of kids with disabilities—and we need to talk about that.


It starts early because even the term "special needs" sets parents and their kids apart from their peers. It suggests that the child's needs are so different that parents of typically developing children could not relate. But really, these parents and their kids need the same thing every family does: Support and community. Unfortunately, too many parents lose those when they need them the most.

Autism can make parents feel isolated in a room full of fellow parents

When Amanda Closs's now 10-year-old son was born he had many health issues and was eventually diagnosed with Autism, an intellectual disability, language impairment, a mild traumatic brain injury and left sixth nerve palsy. "Even though I knew in my heart he was different than other children, once diagnosed I struggled when I got the looks and muttering from others," says Closs, who is also parenting a 7-year-old with sensory processing disorder.

Closs describes feeling like she was walking down a lonely road, something mother of three Jessica Schurman can relate to. "It is probably one of the hardest parts of having a child who is beautifully different," explains Schurman, whose middle child has ASD and is considered an "emerging speaker" at age 11, requiring support in several areas of her life.

Schurman explains: "Don't feel sorry for me, she is delightfully chaotic, a beautiful mess, and loving her is a wonderful adventure—that's a quote I saw somewhere but I always felt like it summed up my girl beautifully."

When her daughter was younger Schurman wished she knew a group of parents with kids going through the same things her daughter was, but says, "I also yearned for her to be understood by all her typically developing peers, and their parents."

One of the reasons why the door to the parenting club seems to shut on parents of kids who are disabled or developing differently is because parents of typically developing kids can feel like they don't know what to say or do, so they do nothing because they are afraid of doing the wrong thing. But parents of non-typically developing kids say being welcomed would mean so much.

"Even though we may not be able to participate in the same activities, sometimes there's ways to modify the activity so that everyone can be included," says Danielle G. Her 6-year-old has Autism, childhood apraxia of speech and ADHD. "I know it might seem like a pain, but it means the world to our family when you ask us how something can be adjusted to allow us to participate a bit more easily."

Fellow ASD parent Allison just wants parents of typically developing kids to understand that "it's okay to ask questions," on the road to inclusion.

Inclusion doesn't mean ignoring disabilities + differences

Angela S. is mom to a 7-year-old diagnosed with ASD, ADHD & Sensory Processing Disorder. While he "requires support maneuvering social situations as he gets easily frustrated and has meltdowns", these disabilities are somewhat invisible.

"I'm sure that other parents mean well, but being told that he's just a 'normal kid' isn't encouraging," she explains. "It feels dismissive & like they don't believe me about the struggles kiddo and I share."

Karla H. has two sons, ages 5 and 6. Her oldest has Sensory Processing Disorder, a receptive language delay, ADHD with severe symptoms, and an intellectual disability. She says that milestones may be different for her oldest child and his typically developing peers, but that doesn't need to keep parents apart. "I want to celebrate your kid riding a two-wheel bike, but it's A-okay to also celebrate that my kid is still working up the courage to even pedal." she says.

Abbey C, a fellow parent of a child diagnosed with ASD, agrees. "Understand that our milestones are different but just as worthy of celebration," says Abbey, who recommends parents of typically developing children just ask as many questions as they need to and teach their children to do the same. Instead of assuming a kid can or can't do something, ask their parent how they can be included.

The cure for parental isolation is inclusivity

Jessica W. is a mom of two. Her son, age 5, is non-verbal, diagnosed with ASD and a global developmental delay. Her 3-year-old daughter has a speech delay and learned behaviors from her older sibling. There have been times when she hasn't left her house in months because it was too hard to take her kids anywhere, knowing that activities and attitudes would not be welcoming. She advocates for inclusivity for this reason, and because it's good not just for her kids but for all kids.

"By including us, you help set up our entire community for success," she explains. "By modeling and teaching our children inclusion, compassion and friendship we can help them to grow into well rounded individuals and create communities that look after each other."

One of the ways we can create inclusive communities is by reducing mom shaming and accepting that certain parenting techniques don't work for every kid.

"Parenting a kid with 'short and sweet' direction needs, I can sometimes sound harsh," Karla explains. "It's not my kid being bad, it's that the thinks differently than every other person in this room."

How to support parents whose child has a disability

It is totally awesome for parents dealing with disabilities or health conditions to seek out communities of other parents dealing with the same diagnosis, but that doesn't mean they should not also be welcomed and celebrated in larger parenting communities.

"This was harder, this meant being vulnerable and open with men and women who were not like me, and didn't have children with disabilities," says Jessica Schurman.

She continues: "It meant always, always celebrating her and no matter how I was feeling walking into whatever building she was in and owning and being okay with every part of her differences, even the messy hard ones. I had to be okay with who she is and acknowledge that she is always growing into the person she is supposed to be, because if I wasn't okay with it then I give everyone around her a reason to not be okay with who she is."

Parents of typically developing kids can help parents like Schurman by joining in the celebration of their child, so that they don't have to walk into every situation as the only advocate for their child and so that they have a safe person to feel their feelings with.

Fellow ASD parent Pam M. wants families of kids with disabilities to be given the opportunity "to join other families in activities that they normally do, such as, bike riding, going swimming or to the beach with another family."

But finding those connections can be hard, because as Naomi S. points out, it can be so hard for to connect with other moms in social groups when children are young (and often pre-diagnosis) and don't behave like the other children. That's why we need less mom shame in parenting circles and more acceptance that kids don't always sit quietly in story time.

Sometimes they cry, sometimes they flap, sometimes they melt down. But we can still befriend those mamas—it can be as easy as asking her how you can help or reminding her that she is doing a great job.

Autism mamas are loved + so are their babies

Mothers of kids with ASD have the same human needs all mothers do.

When asked what she wished she'd had on her loneliest days, Amanda Closs said, "Someone to tell me it's okay and I'm doing it right. Wipe my tears as I struggle thinking I'm doing it all wrong. Reassurance that we will be okay."

All parents need that. And all parents can provide it to each other, even if their kids are not developing in the exact same way.

Karla H. says on her loneliest days she wished for ,"A nap. And someone to just sit quietly and cry with me. And someone to tell my child that he is so loved, because I need other people to say it, so I can hear it."

To all the ASD mamas out there and other parents raising children with disabilities, hear us when we say your child is loved and so are you.


These new arrivals from the Motherly Shop are *so* good you need them all

Noodle and Boo, Mushie and Plan Toys—everything you need, mama.

Motherhood is hard work—finding great products and brands to make the journey easier doesn't have to be. Each week, we stock the Motherly Shop with brilliant new products we know you'll need and love from brands and makers that really care.

So, what's new this week?

Noodle and Boo: Holistic baby skin care

Through working with chemists who specialize in natural and holistic skin care, Noodle and Boo has developed exclusive formulas that nourish, replenish and protect especially delicate, eczema-prone and sensitive skin—including laundry detergent. Their signature, obsession-worthy scent—which is subtly sweet, pure and fresh—is the closest thing to bottling up "baby smell" we've ever found.

Mushie: Kids' dinnerware that actually looks great

We're totally crushing on Mushie's minimalist dinnerware for kids. Their innovative baby and toddler products leverage Swedish design to marry both form and function while putting safety front and center. Everything is created in soft, muted colors from BPA-free materials.

Plan Toys: Open-ended toys that last

Corralling and cleaning up the toys becomes less stressful when you bring home fewer, better, more beautiful ones. Plan Toys checks all the boxes. Made from re-purposed rubber wood, they're better for the planet as well.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Mushie silicone baby bib

Mushie silicone baby bib

There's no going back to cloth bibs after falling in love with this Swedish design. The pocket catches whatever misses their mouths and the BPA-free silicone is waterproof and easy to wipe down between uses.

$13

Mushie kids' square dinnerware plate set

Mushie kids' square dinnerware plate set

We're totally crushing on the soft muted colors that flow with our table aesthetics and the thoughtful high-sided design that helps babies and toddler who are learning to feed themselves.

$15

Noodle and Boo nursery essentials kit

Noodle and Boo nursery essentials kit

Stocked with everything a new mama needs to care for her little one's delicate skin, Noodle and Boo's nursery essentials gift set is the perfect way to create a holistic and natural skin care routine from day one.

$45

Plan Toys doctor set 

Plan Toys doctor set

Ideal for quiet time and imaginative role play, we love the gorgeous planet-friendly doctor kit from Plan Toys. The rubber wood stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, syringe and reflex hammer pack up neat and tidy into the red cotton case should they need to dash off on a rescue mission.

$30

Noodle and Boo instant hand sanitizer

Noodle and Boo instant hand sanitizer

Since we're buying and using hand sanitizer by the truckload these days, we're thrilled Noodle and Boo has made one we can feel good about using on little ones who cram their hands in their mouths 24/7. Not only does it kill 99.9% of germs, but it also leaves hands moisturized as well.

$10

Plan Toys natural wooden blocks set

Plan Toys natural wooden blocks set

A toy box isn't complete without a set of blocks—and this set is one of our new favorites. The sustainable, re-purposed wood is eco-friendly, comes at a relatively affordable price point and are certain to last well beyond multiple kids, hand-me-downs and even generations.

$30

Noodle and Boo family fun pack cleansing set

Noodle and Boo family fun pack cleansing set

Because their products were developed for delicate and eczema-prone skin, Noodle and Boo's full line of skin care has become a favorite among those with sensitive skin of all ages. This set is the perfect way to pamper the entire family.

$48

Mushie kids' round dinnerware bowl set

Mushie kids' round dinnerware bowl set

No need to sacrifice safety or design with the sustainable dinnerware from Mushie. Their minimalist, functional dishes are perfect for serving up meals and snacks to your tablemates who might hurl it to the floor at any point. They're made in Denmark from BPA-free polypropylene plastic mamas can feel good about and dishwasher and microwave-safe as well.

$14

Plan Toys geo stacking blocks

Plan Toys geo stacking blocks

The best engaging, open-ended toys are the ones that are left out and available, inviting little (and big!) ones to play. These beautiful gem-like blocks make for addicting coffee table play for the entire family.

$30

Plan Toys wooden green dollhouse

Plan Toys wooden green dollhouse

Energy-efficient design isn't just for grown-up real estate. This green dollhouse includes a wind turbine, a solar cell panel, electric inverter, recycling bins, a rain barrel, a biofacade and a blind that can adjust the amount of sunlight and air circulation along with minimalist furniture we'd totally love to have in our own houses.

$250

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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12 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$189

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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