by Raji Ade Oba,
- Grace Alexander, Founder of Star Children Development Initiative, holds a powerful seminar, titled, the Impact of Parental care of Children with Disabilities on their parents’ mental health
- The Symposium was held on zoom and in-person concurrently. Parents, carers, including a bevy of high-profiled educationists, disability rights advocates, and social workers from the Uk and Nigeria were present at the event–remotely and in-person
- Grace Alexander, who is also the Lead Convener, Uk Summit, had flown into the country to spend quality time with parents and guardians of children with disabilities, making compelling and convincing notes of self-acceptance, self-care, and self-confidence as essential tools for being model parents of children with disabilities
- The host and the UK-trained speakers who all had a disabled child of their own in the house, admonished parents of children with disabilities to see joy and blessings disguised as a disability in their children and to accept and show them, love
- Women who care for children with disabilities make amazing testimonies about the financial and psychosocial hardships they face before their life-changing encounter with Grace Alexander, who shared with them real-life, practice-informed tools for overcoming the strain of caring for a child with a disability
Star Children Development Initiative organized a symposium in Ibadan—via Zoom and in-person. The seminar was aimed at parents and guardians of children with disabilities, including special education teachers, social workers, and educational professionals.
Star Children Development Initiative is a nonprofit International organization that promotes equality and social justice for persons with disabilities most especially children, their caregivers from poor socio-economic backgrounds, youths and women.
Titled, the Impact of Parental care of Children with Disabilities on their parent’s mental health, the theme of the seminar was to empower attendees with contemporary information about how to effectively and efficiently care for their children with disabilities.
“It is hard for any parent to see their child suffer a disability, but we want you to know that it is not the end of the world. I did go through the worst traumatic moments of my life when, at age 5, my last child had begun to show unusual symptoms of developmental delay, including epilepsy.”
Madam Alexander had recounted her story during an interview on the birthday anniversary of her son, who is affectionately known as “Prof”.
“I started having confused emotion and at a time, I began to have issues with my mental health. Internalizing disability issues was very difficult for me as I lost confidence, even though we are going to the hospital, I could not summon the courage to go and ask questions about what is wrong with my son. I was having a panic attack, I was asking God why me but no answers.
“It was a process, it took me 7 years, I went through bereavement because I thought I had lost a son, even though I was seeking help, I was still confused and living in denial. I was not actually doing enough to support my child.”
Don’t live in self-denial. You have to have the courage to accept your child’s circumstances
“One, I will instruct Parents who are going through what I am going through, for you to affect any change, it must be intentional. Intentionality, if you don’t accept that there are problems. If you are still in denial, you cannot be intentional about what you want to do.
Talk to people. A problem shared is a problem half-solved
Mrs. Grace Alexander told attendees that she started speaking with professionals, seeking solutions, looking for what works for her son and she had to leave work and go to school to study social work.
“Then, God started revealing a lot of things to me. I understood that I needed to set up an organization after school but I needed knowledge on what to do. As a social worker, you do a needs assessment and when I did my dissertation, I worked with those that had a stroke, developmental disability, and taking care of my son gave me a lot of knowledge. So I took the decision to look at what is best for my son and also medication, knowing what works for him and what does not work for him.”
Work on yourself and change your mentality
So, it is so important to work on yourself. Do something. Take a new exciting challenge. Go back to school. Start a business. Change your circle of friends. Seek support. Collaborate.
Parents of children with disabilities should eat well and sleep well. Take a balanced diet always. Striking the connection between self-care and the health of the child, Grace Alexander said, it is essential to eat well and get sufficient sleep. It is not only good for your mental health if you cannot care well for yourself, but you also cannot care well for your child with a disability.
Show them love and compassion
The host and speakers encouraged parents and guidances to show their children with disabilities, unconditional love. Love and affection are the greatest tools a child with a disability can get from the parent. Love is capable of changing states.
“Show them love. Tell them and show them that you love them. Disability or not, our children are human beings, first and foremost.” a speaker in the audience had admonished.
Courage, self-belief, and self-confidence in the face of disability in the house
We learn that parents should have the courage to accept the things they cannot change, faith and confidence in a difficult situation, and hope for a better future for their children and for themselves.
As an added note, Mrs. Modupe Janet-Ogundare, who is a co-speaker at the Seminar, and also has a child with a disability, said that raising a child with a disability requires a substantial amount of effort and resources, including patience and the ability to seek support.
A mental First Aider, Coach ‘Lade Olugbemi informed attendees on strategies for managing stress, as parents grapple with the heavy toll of caring for their child with a disability.
“One important tool to note is changing your mind. Change your thinking. Change your mindset. Improve upon your self-belief. Believe in yourself. There is nothing with having a child with a disability. You’ve got to accept circumstances, show love to your child and move on.” the coach and Founder, NOUNS (a mental health advocacy organization) noted.
Also, Mrs. Adebimpe Oshinuga Ochulli, Director, Jars Educational Institute, spoke on the dynamics of trauma. She asserted that practicing self-care can help grieving mothers cope with the emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms that result from the circumstances of their child with a disability.
Mrs. Alexander ended with a powerful note: “Do not feel burdened. Do not be depressed. Do not be anxious over your child. I have lived it. I did overcome it. Every child has potentials regardless of circumstances. I think if a child can answer his name or his nickname, the child has the capacity to learn, to live, to co-habit. A child can strive if given the necessary reasonable accommodation.”
The symposium ended with a key figure and speaker in the initiative, Mrs. Modupe Ajayi, cutting a cake and having a fun time in commemoration of her 40th birthday anniversary.