Special needs parenting - Groundhog Day?

I watched Groundhog Day for the first time last year – you know, the one where Bill Murray wakes up every morning and it is February 2, again. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over. And I was struck by how early years parenting could be described as Groundhog Day. But for those of us who have children with special needs, our parenting journey can be even more caught in a time-loop.

Daniel has Down Syndrome which means not only that things can take a bit longer for him to do but that it takes a long time to consolidate his learning. Doing something once, twice, three times even isn’t a guarantee that he’ll be able to do it next week or next month. We’re dealing with many of the same battles we’ve been dealing with for years – trying to get him to use cutlery consistently, not have toilet accidents, say 1-2-3-4-5 rather than 1-2-3-7-5 – the list goes on. In all those examples we’ve had days, or even weeks in a row when he’s done it, then all of a sudden you’re back where you started. The inconsistency is so frustrating – the weeks of no toilet accidents fool you into a brief trip out of the house without a change of clothes and he has an accident. Then he might be fine again, or you’re into a cycle of weeks with daily accidents. It’s wearying parenting the same things over and over again. Maybe you’ve the same frustrations?

We don’t know when Daniel will achieve some of the milestones we’ve been working towards for most of his 4 years, but we get up every day and hope that today is the day that life shifts permanently into a new phase. Although, even when we feel like it’s one step forward, one step back, there are moments to enjoy in those steps forward. I keep a journal and recently started writing down things Daniel says. Mostly his speech is telegraphic – he uses key words and signs to communicate his needs, yet a few weeks ago we had this exchange at the dinner table:

Colin, “What did you do today?”

Daniel, “I went to school!”

Daniel doesn’t use ‘I’ normally, he rarely uses verbs and it was the first time we had heard him say ‘to’, so to use all three in a sentence was incredible. Since then he’s mostly answered “all done” or “school” or “church” to these questions – back to the time-loop.

So onto my words to encourage parents of children with special needs on February 3, still Groundhog Day for you… your love for your child is enough. Their love for you is enough. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Give them a hug. And celebrate those small steps forward, the things that change, even if by the next day you’re back where you were before.