Feeling Isolated As a Special Needs Mom

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

I remember the first time I walked the halls after my c-section. Pushing my daughter’s isolette back to the nursery, I clung to the side for support and noticed her eyes tracking people going past. We joked that she was advanced, already more alert than a newborn should be. I remember that moment so clearly because it was probably the first and last time I was free to dream about her skills bypassing her age. She didn’t meet a single milestone on time.

The first time a friend brought her baby over to visit her son rolled around our living room floor. Just a few days younger than my daughter he used his body to push himself in whatever direction he wanted to go. My daughter laid in the spot I originally placed her, gumming her very cute little fist with her toothless mouth. She kicked her feet a bit but content to stay right where she was, made no attempt to get anywhere. My friend and I talked about all the things new moms do– sleepless nights, favorite diapers, more about the sleepless nights. But at that first playdate, the elephant found its spot in the room. That elephant became a fixture in every mom-conversation I had from then on, growing with every encounter. As my daughter grew and her skills didn’t, conversations with moms who had typically developing kids seemed to have no point. So, I began avoiding them altogether.


Friendships between moms usually form through common bonds. As my daughter grew and not sitting up on time turned to not walking which later bloomed to not talking much, my chance at finding a mom-friend with a single thing in common grew less and less likely. The other kids my daughter’s age were heading off to preschool while we were looking for the most qualified autism diagnostician in the area. Local moms were discussing how small to cut up grapes and whether to leave the skin on or peel it off while I was trying to figure out what an Individualized Education Plan meant. A chasm, large enough to fit our house and my car and the pile of health insurance statements I couldn’t understand, was quickly growing between myself and any other parent of a child my daughter’s age.

All the usual routes to find mom-friends are nearly obsolete for a special needs mom. We’re not at library story time or Mommy and Me classes, we’re hovering nervously during physical and occupational therapy appointments and wondering if this new speech therapy approach is worth the steep price tag. None of us are taking the yoga class down the street during preschool hours, we’re rapidly taking a shower because it’s not safe to take one when our kids are home or napping if we’re lucky since we haven’t slept in a few years.

It isn’t until our kids get older that we start to meet other special needs moms who might be candidates for our mom-friend tribe. The ones whose kids end up in our child’s small class of eight. The ones who look as tired as we feel and sigh just as loudly as we do when our child lays across our feet at drop off but doesn’t have the language to tell us why. Those moms are the ones who’ve been on our same journey since wobbling down the halls to the nursery after our kiddos were born. They are the ones who understand the sleepless nights and the piles of paperwork that might as well be in a different language.

We will steal quick chats while walking from the car to the classroom or when our kids are old enough to head into therapy sessions without us but that’s about all we can spare. We know better than to plan a night out, because finding a qualified babysitter or interrupting our children’s nighttime routine is out of the question. Their lives are just as demanding as ours but maybe a little bit less lonely now that they know there is one more mom out there feeling just as alone, right along side them.

Read on for more info on mom friendships: