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The Pros and Cons of Being a Special Needs Working Parent

Boy Recently Diagnosed with Autism_AutismWonderland_Lisa Quinones Fontanez_Joseph Cheo FontanezWhen my son Norrin was first diagnosed with autism, many people asked if I would quit working. I knew why they asked. At the time of diagnosis, Norrin was 2-years-old, he had the cognitive level of a 14-month-old and the language level of a 7-month-old. We were offered 15-20 hours a week of home based ABA therapy, 15 hours of center based therapy (a special needs preschool) and 3 hours of speech therapy. It was also suggested that Norrin be evaluated for occupational and physical therapy. As a working parent, how was I going to fit all of this into our day? How could I be part of his therapy?

Quitting my job wasn’t an option. Our family needed two incomes. I talked to my boss and I rearranged my work schedule. And my husband, Joseph, did the same. We managed to make things work and still take turns participating in Norrin’s therapy sessions.

Joseph has a new job with much less flexibility, so now the bulk of responsibility falls on me…which can be stressful. I am lucky enough that my boss is understanding of our situation. I can’t work from home, but my hours are flexible – so long as I work my 35 hours.

On Wednesdays, I leave work at 1pm. It’s my day of the week to get home early, pick Norrin up from the bus (or from school) and be a part of his therapy sessions. It’s not much, but it helps. The other day a coworker made a comment on how she wished she had the perk of leaving early. I don’t consider leaving early one day a week to care for my special needs child much of a perk. Because if Norrin were a typical kid, I’d work a straight 9-5 or 8-4 like any other secretary.

Today (September 16th) is Working Parents Day and I thought I’d share the pros and cons of being a working parent when your kid has special needs.

  • The Pros & Cons of Being a Working Parent When Your Kid Has Special Needs 1 of 8
    Pros and Cons of Being Special Needs Working Parents_Autism_Lisa Quinones Fontanez Babble

    Click through to see the pros and cons of being special needs working parents.

  • Pro: Extra Income 2 of 8
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    The biggest reason why we both continue to work outside the home is money. Kids cost money. And a kid with autism? You don't even want to know how expensive it can be. Individually, we don't make a whole lot of money to sustain our family, but together we make enough to get by and then some. And it's the then some that's worth it. I want to be able to buy Norrin a new toy or book just because. And I like taking him to fun places or out for a nice dinner. A second income allows us to do those things.

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

  • Con: Finding Appropriate Child Care 3 of 8
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    Probably the biggest con of being a special needs working parent: child care - especially during the summer months. There are 2 after school programs in our neighborhood and we've tried them both. Neither were appropriate options. Even with a trained ABA therapist shadowing Norrin, the program directors made it clear they wanted nothing to do with Norrin. Summer camps are not an option. A babysitter is ideal, but it's hard trusting a stranger with a child who can't always communicate his needs. Initially my mother was helping us, but she's older, lives an hour away, and has her own responsibilities. Our current babysitter is no longer available, so now we're scrambling again to find one...

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

  • Pro: Social Interaction 4 of 8
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    I may not always enjoy my job, but I love the people I work with and I like the social interaction. I like getting dressed and going someplace. I like being able to go out for lunch or shopping on my lunch hour. I like - dare I say it? - having time without my child. I like talking about things other than my kid. I like having an identity other than being "Norrin's mom."

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

  • Con: Sick Time 5 of 8
    Sick kid with high fever and a worried mother

    Since I don't have the flexibility to work from home, I have to either take a sick day or a vacation day when Norrin's sick. Which is tough because I don't want to abuse the sick day policy and I like to save my days for, you know, vacation. Sometimes I stay home and sometimes my mom comes to help. So what happens when I'm sick? I usually suck it up and go into work anyway. 

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

  • Pro: Health Insurance 6 of 8
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    I have amazing health care benefits, which come in handy when you have a kid with special needs. There are times when I think I should make the sacrifice to become a stay-at-home mom, but the thought of giving up my benefits - I'm just not ready for that.  Our family needs them too much right now.

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

  • Con: Having To Pick & Choose What Events to Attend 7 of 8
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    I have missed so much over the years. I've missed school trips, class shows and information seminars. And I've never attended a PTA meeting. I just can't take a vacation day to attend them all. So I have to pick and choose. I'm not a parent who has the perk (yes, this one is a perk in my book) of answering emails on a blackberry while cheering from the sidelines. 

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

  • Pro/Con: Time 8 of 8
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    Con: Being a working parent, there is never enough time in the day, week or month to get it all done. It takes a lot of juggling. I am always tired and feel like the work day never ends. I feel like my time is always split and there are times when I have to choose between my kid and my job. That's when mom guilt kicks in.

     

    Pro: Because my time is limited, I appreciate the moments when I get to just be a mom. And I know that Norrin enjoys our time together too. Our time together is special and it's a reminder of why I work so hard. I make the most out of the few minutes before the bus arrives and the hour before it's time for bed. I always find to time in our day to connect. Our time together gives me the fuel I need to keep going.  

     

    Photo credit: iStock photo

 

What are your pros and cons of being a special needs working parent?

Catch up with Lisa’s latest Babble posts:

Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.

And don’t miss a post! Follow Lisa on Twitter and Facebook!

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