How To Navigate Life As A Special Needs Mom

[Do you feel overwhelmed and alone as a special needs mom? Discover simple times and loving encouragement to help you guide you on your journey as a special needs mom.]

Does mom life look different than you originally envisioned? Life often hands us challenges as parents that leave us feeling lost or overwhelmed.

Today, my guest on The Soul Care Mom Podcast is Shannon Early. She’s a homeschooling mom of four, two of which are on the autism spectrum, and she has another child with a rare genetic disorder.

She shares her journey as a special needs mom, the struggles of being a special needs parent, and tips on homeschooling a special needs child. Whether or not you are a mom of a special needs child, you are not going to want to miss this episode. The tips shared in this conversation will help you to navigate your journey with more ease.

Let’s get started.

You can also listen to this conversation on iTunes or your preferred podcast platform.

[Disclaimer: we are not health professionals. This chat is solely based on research and personal experience. If you have any concerns please seek out the help of your trusted health professionals.]

[Please Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that Soul Care Mom may receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Please see disclaimers for more information.]

Catherine Wilde

Hi, Shannon. Thank you so much for joining me.

Shannon Earley

Hi. I’m so glad that you’re having me on. Thank you.

Catherine Wilde

I am so excited to talk with you about all things motherhood and homeschooling, and I’m also really looking forward to hearing your experience as a mom with multiple special needs children. Could you start by sharing a little bit about that in your journey?

The Journey Of A Special Needs Mom

Shannon Earley

Oh, sure. Yeah. So my husband and I, we always knew we wanted to have a big family. We just knew we wanted to have tons of children. And I found out that I couldn’t get pregnant at first. And we were so upset about it.

And we decided, okay, there’s some reason God wants us to have a big family, but it’s obviously not going to be this way. So we’ll just adopt like, a gazillion children. And as soon as we feel comfortable with that, we ended up getting pregnant. And we were like, what the heck? We thought we couldn’t get pregnant.

Shannon Earley

I could go on for a while. But anyways, our baby was born out of a lot of difficulties. And when she was three weeks old, when you’re like a breastfeeding mom, you guys can get in a rhythm with your baby, and you kind of know when it’s time for the baby to nurse. And I remember thinking, it’s been a really long time since she’s a nursed. I’m going to go check on the baby.

And she wasn’t breathing. She was a completely different color. She was totally limp. And so I picked her up. And, you know that scene from 101 Dalmatians where there’s a little puppy that dies and the dad starts rubbing its back really hard? Like, all of a sudden, that’s what I just started thinking about doing.

Shannon Earley

So I’m, like, rubbing her back really hard. And later on, the hospital said that she had what is called an acute life-threatening event. And it would have been SIDS if I didn’t find her. So with all that is the backstory, I didn’t know I could have kids. Finally was able to get pregnant, and have a baby, but she almost dies. All this other stuff.

It was like getting on this road of motherhood was insane. It was already crazy. But we were just so thankful that we had a baby, that it was like whatever else was going to get thrown at us was going to be okay. We were going to deal with it, if that makes sense.

Shannon Earley

But she does now have high-functioning autism. I know they say autism is a spectrum and all this stuff. I have so much stuff I can talk to you about.

But then we have our second born who also has autism. His name is Finn, and he’s a darling. And his autism as a boy looks very different than our daughter’s autism as a girl.

And the interesting thing, I think that God kind of worked it out that way that our kids were so close in age. Because when our eldest was two, we were pregnant with our third. And we didn’t know that anybody had autism yet. We just thought none of the parenting books are working.

Shannon Earley

This is so hard. Why are all of our friends’ advice not working? Nothing that we’re doing is that the doctor says it’s just not helping. Like, what’s going on?

So by the time we had our third child, we started getting the diagnoses for the first two kids. It was a super long answer to now we have four kids and half of them have autism.

Catherine Wilde

Oh, my goodness. Okay, so thank you so much for sharing your journey. I didn’t know all of that. Like you’ve said, being a mom, becoming a mom is not an easy job just in itself. But then adding special needs of children into the equation makes it even more challenging in some ways.

And we talked about this just before we hopped on. Right? Children are these beautiful gifts, and of course we love them and we cherish them. But let’s talk honestly for a moment about feelings. Because although we wouldn’t change our children for the world, those big emotions can still come up for us as parents, right? Around special needs diagnosis, and especially you’ve got multiple of them.

Special Needs Mom Depression

Catherine Wilde

So honoring those feelings and allowing yourself to process what’s coming up for you, whether you feel sad or upset or depressed just knowing that all of your feelings are valid and it’s okay to work through them. So can you share your experience around that?

Shannon Earley

Yeah, I think first of all, any mom or dad that’s listening if you have children with special needs, my heart goes out to you. And it is so important that everyone’s going to say that you need to take some time for yourself. And I know that we don’t get any of it.

Shannon Earley

But it is so important to understand what you’re feeling. Don’t be ashamed of the different thoughts that you might have. Try to talk them out with your spouse or your partner or a therapist or something, because we have some really big emotions that we’re not really allowed time to process because we’re dealing with our children.

So first of all, just that. Secondly, I think that there is a lot of feeling of, yes, we love our children. Of course we love our kids. And we also feel like we always have to be the fighter for our children. We’re the ones with a sword and we’re standing between our kids and whatever the difficulty is. Whatever child you have, that’s our job as a mom.

Struggles Of Being A Special Needs Parent

Shannon Earley

But when you have kids with special needs, it can be really difficult. I mean, just the fact that a lot of your friends, no matter how much they love you, if they don’t have a child with special needs, they just can’t understand, you know? They just don’t get it.

And they might say things like, she doesn’t look like she has autism. Don’t say that. Bless y’all’s hearts. Just don’t say it. They try to be helpful and they can’t do it.

But also, one of the feelings I feel a lot and I feel shameful saying it because like I said, be honest with your feelings. But one of the feelings I feel a lot is actually embarrassment. I can get embarrassed by my kids quite frequently. And I think that my typically functioning kids, yes, they still embarrass me in the store if they have a tantrum or something like that.

Shannon Earley

But I think that what’s different, especially with something like autism. Nobody can look at my kids right away and be like, oh, they obviously have something different in their brain. They don’t look like that. They just look like a typical human being.

And I can feel so embarrassed for things like, for instance, my eldest has this problem where when she’s eating food. Her senses get overloaded. So if she’s in public, it’s like she’s not able to filter out people talking and the sound of people’s feet and the sounds of doors opening.

Shannon Earley

She can’t filter that out and figure out what’s the most important thing to focus on. And so she gets over stimulated and she’ll end up throwing up her food and she’ll do this in public. So she’s ten now. And we’ll be eating or something thinking, okay, maybe this time she’s got it, she’s got it.

And we’ll be sitting next to another family, like Chick-fil-a or something like that. And then she’s like throwing up, all over the table. And I’m just like, it’s so embarrassing. It’s so embarrassing.

Shannon Earley

Or when my so people be like, “Hey, buddy, how are you doing?” And he’s not going to respond. He just doesn’t do. And you want to be like, “Hey, dude, say hello.” This super nice person is saying “Hi” to you. Just say “Hi” back. And he just won’t do it.

So there’s certain times where I do feel embarrassed by my kids, which sounds stinky because I love them to death. But also there’s just a feeling of like, it’s not fair. It just stinks. Because there’s so much difficulty being, you know, parents of children with special needs. But there’s so much difficulty. You see your kids go through too.

Shannon Earley

And it just is heartbreaking when your kid might say something to you in private, like, they might cry and say they have no friends. And then you see them in public and they have no ability to get into a group or to talk to people or to make friends. They just don’t know how to do it.

And so there’s a lot of feeling of like, it’s just not fair. It just stinks. It’s not fair. Finding out about the diagnosis. For instance, when we were searching for what was going on with our kids, I started getting this inkling of, okay, nothing’s working. And my children do these odd behaviors, these really odd behaviors.

Shannon Earley

And it looks like if you research it, it’s probably autism. And everyone’s like, “No, it’s not autism. There’s no way.” And by the way, mom, if you get, like, a gut instinct, just go for it. Just go figure it out.

But everyone’s like, “There’s no way it’s autism. Your kids are just quirky. They’re just really odd.” And finally we go and we get the diagnosis. And on one hand, I was like, “Yes, I knew it. I as right. I’m not a bad mom. Like, yes, I knew that none of the parenting books were working. This is why.”

Shannon Earley

And on the other hand, you’re like, “No, this is awful. What is my child’s future going to be? Are they going to be able to get married one day if they want to? Are they going to be able to leave the house?”

It’s like, on the other hand, it’s just this terrible weight. So I don’t know. I think just like being a mom of typical kids, things can go you can have a great day and a tough day in the same hour with your kids the same way with autism. It just happens to be a lot more, I think a lot more up and down. A lot more.

Being A Special Needs Mom

Catherine Wilde

Thank you for sharing so authentically. I’m sure that there are moms listening that can still relate and so needed to hear that another mom is going through this or having those feelings that she maybe doesn’t feel like she can talk about. So thank you so much for that. Being a special needs mom

So if there is a mom listening right now and she’s in the middle of navigating like a special needs diagnosis and what that means for her family. She’s trying to figure out what she needs to do. And she’s just feeling overwhelm, what would you say to her?

Shannon Earley

That’s a really good question. I think you’re going to feel overwhelmed and it’s really difficult, but you need to push through if you’re on the way to get a diagnosis. There’s so many hoops and hurdles and paperwork and all these things you need to do.

And it can seem just insane. And you have to see all these different doctors. And then if you get a diagnosis, you have to go to all these different therapies. And it can just seem so daunting.

But I believe that you are the mom for this child, that God put you there to take care of this child. He gave you this child because he knows you’re the guy. You’re the guy that is going to rock this child’s world. And it’s going to be up to you. And you’ve got this. You’ve totally got it. And so just keep pushing through.

Catherine Wilde

I love that so much. And then you said, there’s a reason we get paired up with our kids. And I think the mom is amazing. She’s equipped for this and so powerful. And not that it’s easy, but the kids too. I feel like these kids that come into our world that are unique and have these quirks, and they’re asking us to see the world in a different way

They’re asking us to grow. They’re asking us to open our hearts. And just they’re such a gift. And I know that we have this way that we see the world and the way that things “should” be and the way that we should act in public and all of these things. And I feel like they’re asking us to broaden our horizons, to see the world in a different way. There are so many blessings and all of that, and it can be so hard to navigate. And I really do appreciate you sharing all this.

Shannon Earley

No, I agree with you that you’re totally right as far as seeing the world in a different through their eyes. I think you’re 100% right. And you’re right that a lot of times the difficulty is when it’s like we have a plan and we want things to go the plan this way.

And with children in general and with kids with autism, they’re like, screw your plan. This is how I’m going to go through with the day. But, you know, like, okay, my son, for instance, is obsessed with miniature things, and that’s really fun.

Shannon Earley

We’ll be out in public and I’ll start noticing, like, oh, look at that mini pine cone or whatever it is. And then my daughter, she is her super obsession is babies. So mostly human babies, but it could be a baby or anything.

And she’s just decided maybe she could be a NICU nurse or something if she really focuses on school and she could take care of babies all day. When she found out about that, she was like, forget about like, I’m going to do everything I can to get there one day.

Catherine Wilde

That’s amazing. Yes. My kids definitely changed the way that I see the world. I can so relate to that. I love that.

Homeschooling A Special Needs Child

Catherine Wilde

Okay. So you also homeschool your kids. So I’d love to hear about that. We’re really connected through homeschooling. We learn so much. I get to go with both ways we teach our kids, but we also learn so much in the process.

Shannon Earley

Yes.

Catherine Wilde

And one thing I’ve noticed with my kids is very different in the way that they learn the things that they want to learn, their learning styles. So can you talk to us a little bit about your experience? Like, what got you into homeschooling, your experience as a homeschooling a special needs child, and then give and tips to share with us?

Yeah. So honestly, I started home school because I was worried about the way my kids would be treated in school, honestly. That’s what got me into it. I now do it for more reasons. Like, I think I am really qualified to teach them. And I enjoy spending time with them. And I love going on vacations on the off season, things like that.

Shannon Earley

But homeschooling my kids, what’s super cool about it is if they’ve been working really hard on learning how to read a word or to do this math problem, you get to be the one that’s ther. When they finally get it, you get to see their expression, you get to see their face, and you’re celebrating together.

Shannon Earley

What stinks about it is you have to be the one that’s there as they’re learning how to do it. Hearing my kids learn how to read the word “the” is like, so hard. They’re trying to sound it out. And I’m like “Ah, I can’t read that anymore!”

Shannon Earley

But homeschooling kids with autism specifically, I think it’s great for them because I think a lot of the things that they do, they would probably get in trouble for in school.

Like, for instance, my so will not sit he just will not sit down when he does school. And it’s like, well, that’s fine. We’re at home. You can stand up if you want. That’s fine.

My daughter likes to chew everything. So, like pencils, shoelaces. She’s just chewing it as she’s doing school work. And so I think a lot of that works well.

Special Needs Mom Laughing With Her Daugher
Shannon Earley

Plus, with all of their therapies that they have to go to and stuff, homeschool really does help. Because it’s not like I have to take them out of school to go bring them to 02:00 therapy or whatever. We’re ready to roll.

But mostly I really enjoy the flexibility of homeschooling. If you’re sending your kids to public school or private school and they’re having a really tough morning, you still generally have to send them to school. You still have to say, “Well, all these absences and parties are going to really count against you. I can’t keep you home for the day.

With homeschooling. If one of my kids is having, like, a really tough day or whatever, I can be like, all right, you know what? You don’t have to do the rest of it today. We’ll work on this. We’ll double it up tomorrow. Not a problem. I could do pluses and minuses all day about home school.

Catherine Wilde

Yeah. There are definitely pros and cons. And I agree with what you said about the flexibility of it and just being able to nurture what’s going on for them in their world.

Shannon Earley

Yes.

Catherine Wilde

Forcing them to snap into it or get to it when they’re not feeling it.

Shannon Earley

That’s true.

Shannon Earley

We do a lot of recess, a lot of, okay, guys, go outside. You’re obviously not able to focus on math right now. Or if there’s a subject that they really like, we’re able to talk about it a lot longer and go into detail about it.

Catherine Wilde

One thing that I’ve learned, too, when I first started was that I felt like we had to sit down. We have to do these worksheets. And it has to look like school, like what I was used to at school.

Catherine Wilde

But they learn so much, no matter what they’re doing. Like, if we’re making breakfast, they’re learning. How the eggs get cooked or whatever it is. But there’s so much learning going on all the time. They’re always asking questions. So it doesn’t always have to look like we’re sitting here doing this worksheet.

Shannon Earley

Right. Exactly. Because you think, okay, well, that would have been Home Economics. That would have actually taken your hour class to learn how to make an omelette or whatever it is. And they get to do that all day long.

Shannon Earley

Or like the other day, I had to refill window washer fluid in my car, and all the kids were like, “Oh, how does that work?” And I got to show them. So, yeah, all day long they’re learning.

Catherine Wilde

Absolutely. I agree. Okay, so you mentioned a little bit finding time for yourself. And that’s a challenge. And I am passionate about helping moms carve out that space for themselves, because when we can do that, we can nourish ourselves. Even in the little ways, we’re able to show up better. We’re able to show up with more patients, more energy, more love for our kids.

Shannon Earley

Yes.

Catherine Wilde

What has your journey with self care been and what are some of your favorite ways to practice self care?

Shannon Earley

Well, that’s a good question. In the beginning didn’t believe in self care. I think. In the beginning I was very focused on my whole life is for the kids. That’s it. And I didn’t realize how detrimental that was to me.

Shannon Earley

But my depression was getting worse. And I was having terrible joint pain all the time. And my anxiety was through the roof. And it wasn’t until I was speaking to a therapist, and she was like, “you know, when you’re on a plane and they have the oxygen masks. They tell you you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help your kids.” And she’s like, “that’s what you need to think about self care about. It’s like that.”

“You need to take care of yourself so that you’re able to take care of your kids and you’re not passed out on the plane.” Yeah. And so I was like, “oh, I didn’t know it was that big of a deal.” But also it made a lot of sense to me.

Shannon Earley

So as far as podcasting is something I really like to do, all my kids are downstairs right now watching TV, so I can have my alone time. But also, I joined a mom’s group. There’s something called MOPS. Have you ever heard of MOPS before?

Catherine Wilde

Oh, yeah, yeah.

Shannon Earley

They’re great. It’s a mom’s group, guys. And you can have a kid all the way through 12th grade. It doesn’t matter. You could totally join it. And it’s great. So those are just like two social things that I really like to do for myself.

And then as far as things that fill me up. I really like creative stuff. I think, like artwork or playing games with my husband or even just Netflix and chill. Like, just things that I like to do for myself. And I think sometimes when you’re a mom, it’s hard to remember what you like to do. Do you ever feel that way? Where you’re like “I don’t even know what I like.”

Catherine Wilde

I feel that way, too. When the kids get sick, when they have a cold or something, I’m like, let’s do this and this. And then when I get sick, I’m like, “What do I do?” That’s the kind of build that habit. And I even recommend writing a list down of your favorites that you can even just go and look when you have a minute for self care.

Shannon Earley

That’s a really good idea. Actually, someone just said that to me like two weeks ago. I haven’t done it. But that is a good idea.

Catherine Wilde

It helps to just have that have that list to look at. And then as you start doing it more often. You got it. You know? It just becomes second nature.

Shannon Earley

Yes. Even just listening to a good song with the radios down in the car, the windows down in the car just so you can go pick up some milk. I know that maybe for some people are like, that’s not really a long time, but to me, it’s like, yes, I can just jam out for a second and there’s nobody in the car.

Shannon Earley

You got to carve out those little tiny windows for yourself wherever you can. And it’s not being selfish. It’s actually being really helpful to your whole family.

Catherine Wilde

Right. Yeah. And I think you mentioned, like, you threw yourself in the motherhood. And I feel the same way. Like, I didn’t understand that it was a necessity, like, it as caring for my needs.

Catherine Wilde

And your needs need to be met so that you can survive and you’re taking care of other people too, so that it affects them. So I love that you mentioned that because I think so many of us throw ourselves into motherhood. And we think that self are is this luxury and really just taking care of ourselves in all the little ways.

Shannon Earley

Yes. I had this older mom say to me, she was like, “What do you mean taking a shower of self care and alone time?” She said, “that’s the stupidest thing. Does your husband shower with the children?” She was like, “When he takes a shower, does he consider it alone time?” And I was like, oh, I never thought of that. But as moms were like, “Well, I took a shower, so thank you, everybody. And my whole family. Thank you.”

Catherine Wilde

Yes. Right. Yeah. If we can own that, like, it’s okay. There’s so much guilt around taking that time for ourselves. Like we’re taking away from our kids when we do it, but we’re really not. And it’s also showing them like, oh, “this is how I care for myself. I’m worthy of taking care of myself like mom does.”

Shannon Earley

100%. You’re right. And training them how to treat themselves and also how to let themselves be treated when they’re older. You’re totally right.

Catherine Wilde

Yeah. So it’s a gift, like you to your whole family, to next generation. Yeah. It’s amazing.

Shannon Earley

So you would have been on this really incredible journey with so many challenges, so many blessings. If you could go back in time and just say something, anything to your younger self, what would you tell her?

Shannon Earley

I would tell her that she is really loved. That it’s going to be okay. And not to worry. That’s what I would tell her.

Catherine Wilde

Yeah. I think that’s so beautiful. And I think that we can probably all use that message every day. Like, you’re so loved and everything is going to be okay.

Shannon Earley

I know. I feel like it should be like a Bob Marley song or something.

Catherine Wilde

You could play it on repeat all day.

Shannon Earley

Yes, exactly.

Catherine Wilde

Well, thank you so much for this whole conversation. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your journey. I know it really touched me and I know that it will be so wonderful for so many moms to hear.

And so will you share with us where we can find you online?

Shannon Earley

Yeah, absolutely. So I’m at mamasneedlove.com. My podcast is Mamas Need Love. And just like Catherine, I believe that you guys out there, you Mamas. You need time for yourself and you need love and so that’s what I’m all about.

Catherine Wilde

I love that so much. Okay. I’ll share all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much.

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Thanks for joining me, Mama. I’m over here smiling from ear to ear and giving you a big virtual hug. I love spending this time with you. You are amazing for showing up and carving out this space to nourish your soul.

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