The impacts of caring for a child with special educational needs

If you had asked me 20 or so years ago what I knew about autism or ADHD, I would have told you that I didn’t know very much. I didn’t know anyone who was autistic or who had ADHD but, on reflection, was that really the case? If we cast our minds back to only a very short time ago, awareness of neurodiversity was incredibly limited.


As I write this, I am thinking about some of my classmates from my school days. Some of them had an absolutely rotten time of it, and I wonder if they were neurodivergent and it wasn’t identified. I can recall the tellings off by the teacher and the struggling with school work.

The effects of struggling at school can be long-lasting and can result in depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem. Since becoming a therapist, I have gained insight and valuable learning into how challenging the school days were for many people and the impacts of this, which are not to be underestimated. 

School is a hostile and lonely place if you’re not able to turn up each day and just get on with it. Many young people can’t and it’s not their fault. There are so many people who have been unable to fulfil their potential and have been left traumatised by an education system that favours a one-size-fits-all approach.

My therapist self now thinks about the parents/carers of those children. What was it like for them as parents in the 1970s, 80s or 90s or before that even? Did they blame themselves for their 'poorly behaved' child? Were they shamed by teachers and other parents at the school gate? Did they wonder where they had gone wrong when their children were excluded from another class birthday party or school trip? What toll did this take on those parents? What toll does it continue to take on them in the present day?

I want to reflect on and acknowledge the additional and unseen workload of parents and carers who are doing their best to support and nurture their children who have additional needs. These parents and carers are having to navigate the tasks of working (inside or outside of the home), paying bills, and tackling housework, whilst also caring for their loved one who has additional needs. Oh, and form filling. So many forms to fill out. If you know, you know.

Your days will be full to the brim, and it may feel unrelenting at times. If you are that parent/carer, you will probably have had years of this and you know there will be years more to come. I wonder if you even acknowledge now the extra workload that you undertake 24/7? It’s just an average day for you now, isn’t it? How much sleep do you get? How often do you catch up with friends? Can you fulfil your work obligations? Are you judged or misunderstood by others?

I really want to say how great it is that things have changed and children with special educational needs (SEN) are now well supported, that it’s straightforward to seek a diagnosis and get the support for your child that they so desperately need. Unfortunately, it’s not like that.

If you have a child with SEN then you are thrown into a world full of bureaucracy and acronyms, that feels utterly confusing and mind-blowing. If you need to access help for your child, you’re going to have to fight for it, along with thousands of other parents. Navigating the system can be exhausting and distressing. It may feel like the system is looking for reasons not to help you rather than to help you.

How can counselling help?

Counselling provides a non-judgmental and confidential space for you to talk openly and explore how you are feeling. A place to offload and feel heard; it’s time for you. 

I practice as an integrative therapist and tailor my therapy to suit my clients’ individual needs. Whilst working with clients who have caring responsibilities, I find that a solution-focused approach can be helpful. It may be that we work on some goal setting to ensure you get some time to pursue a hobby or to look after your health needs.

I also do a lot of signposting to organisations that I think may be able to help or provide support and advice. I work online which provides an added convenience factor for my clients and it allows me the privilege to work with clients from across the UK.

Carers need caring for, too.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Tonbridge TN10 & Sevenoaks TN13
Written by Claire Seadon, MBACP & MNCPS (Acc.)
Tonbridge TN10 & Sevenoaks TN13

Claire Seadon is an experienced integrative therapist who works solely online. Claire offers a wide range of session times to suit her clients’ needs.

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