The Challenges in Working from Home with a Special Needs Child
Working from home is becoming increasingly popular as more and more people are looking for a way to maintain work-life balance. But, pro tip, work-life balance doesn’t exist. It’s just life. There are many parents who juggle the needs of both a special needs child and their neurotypical child (or, even just a special needs child). It can be hard to balance the time and energy needed to care for both (or, again, even just a special needs child) — but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.
As a special needs mom of an almost 13-year-old child who is non-verbal and with serious delays who has worked from home since he was 3 years old and who previously had two neurotypical children in the home (they’re over 18 now and on their own), I’m writing this article to bring up important points about how you can successfully do the same.
Disclaimer: There’s really no such thing as a “complete guide” to working from home with a special needs child or neurotypical child. I’m covering the major points that come to fruition that you need to consider if you’re a special needs parent like me and you want to work from home(like me). It’s parenting and working from home. You will always have questions. Because it’s like riding a bicycle in hell. Everything is on fire…including your bicycle and your pubes. And that’s just life.
Learn to Manage Your Time When Working From Home
Working from home with a special needs child can be challenging. There are both personal things and business things that must get done. And guess what? Many of those tasks take much longer than they would at an office or if you have a neurotypical child because of the need to care for a special needs child. This is just how our lives work. Because of this we must become the master or mistress (whatever floats your potato) of time management and learning to work around the needs of our kiddo(s).
Time management is a must and can be difficult to do when you’re a special needs parent. Period. Full stop. End of sentence. You must create some sort of time management sanity for yourself. Unfortunately, we aren’t dealing with a “prepare their clothes a week in advance so they can dress themselves” scenario. For most of us, that’s not reality.
For those of us that can, we can create some kind of schedule. My kid thrives on one. Not all special needs moms get that luxury. So, my best suggestion is to do what I do:
Work when they are engaged in something. I spend a lot of time with my son when he is home (as in, not at school). He may be watching something on TV (little Disney fiend that he is) or playing a game on the floor, but we are in the same room. If I need to have a video conference or phone call, I make sure that I schedule these for when he is in school, he is at an appointment with his dad, or his dad can otherwise keep him distracted so that I can take care of what I need to do…undisturbed. Because like any child, the minute mom is on the phone is the best time EVER to cause a ruckus. My husband and I are on the same page when it comes time for family time and work time. And, yes, I realize not everyone has that luxury so please hold your comments on that. He knows that what I need to get done is ultimately for the family.
When Uriel was a toddler and also before he was in school for a full day, I worked when he slept…a lot of the time. And, you know, he didn’t sleep much. It was close to impossible to work when he was awake because of his delays, his need for my attention, or because of his outbursts. And for his first couple of years in school, I was at the school every couple of hours because they called me to come and calm him down.
Ultimately, time management becomes a game of what works for you. You learn to work your business around the needs of your child. My favorite schedule is 5 am to 2 pm. I can work until Uriel wakes up around 7 am. He goes to school at 8 am. I am often done with most of my work by the time he gets home.
Sure, working from home has its perks but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming. You’ll be able to keep the doors open and enjoy the fresh air (or at least windows open) while you work if you want. I like to go outside. I’m extremely noise sensitive so I tend to wear headphones and listen to podcasts sometimes while my kid watches his Disney princess movies and his Winnie the Pooh movies. The high-pitched voices literally give me a screeching migraine. I was this way when my older sons were little, too. I also couldn’t tolerate cartoons as a child.
Working From Home With a Disabled Child: How to Make it Work?
It can be difficult to work from home with a disabled child. Some days are very challenging. Yet, it is not impossible to work from home successfully. Here are some of my tips for being a successful work-from-home parent.
- You know your child better than anyone, but now it is time to really pay attention. When are they most engaged and in a great mood during the day? When are they in school (if they are)? What is their therapy schedule? Take a true look at their schedule and yours to find the best parts of the day that you can generally work.
- Understand that working from home isn’t always sunshine and roses. Before the pandemic and now, working from home is glamorized. Yes, it has some amazing perks. Your perks may differ from mine because I have things I love and you have things you love. So understand that a bad moment working from home or a bad day doesn’t mean the entire experience is crap. I mean, it might be…because honestly, working from home isn’t for everyone. I have honestly had days and weeks I hate it (not because of my kid or my clients). Then, I’m fine again. I’m weird. Like any job, it can become drudgery. Don’t take your day out on your kid and understand that your kid is also entitled to a bad day, even with their disabilities.
- Determine what you do NOT want to do from home. Draw a hard line for that. As a special needs parent, you have enough going on. The last thing you need is to feel stuck doing something you HATE. Then you’ll decide working from home is crap. It isn’t.
- Decide the things you have talents and skills in and things you’d love to do. I had zero experience as a writer before I became one…unless you count the time I spent as a paralegal. I mean, that probably counts, but…you need to be happy. You’re a better parent and worker when you’re happy.
- Figure out how many hours/days (whatever) you can devote (eventually) to working. This won’t be hard and fast because you’re really working around the needs of your kid (family). Now that my kid is older and in school full-time, I have more time to work.
- Be easy with yourself. Yes, you need self-discipline, but don’t beat yourself up.
Maybe you aren’t sure you want to work from home yet. Here are some pros and cons of working from home.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Working From Home With a Special Needs Child?
Working from home as a parent can be challenging, especially if your child has special needs The flexibility of working from home is an attractive feature but it also means that you have to be on all the time, in order to keep your business running smoothly. There are many pros of being a work-at-home parent.
- You can create your own schedule. Therapy in the morning? Cool. Is your kid having a meltdown? No problem…work later. Last-minute doctor’s appointment? You can handle it.
- You can do the work you love. You aren’t subjected to just taking whatever work is available. You can literally build the career of your dreams. You don’t really have to buy any special equipment to get started most of the time (I mean, I guess it depends on what you’re doing…).
- You can work with people all over the world. I’ve written for lawyers (solicitors) in Ireland. I’ve worked with a virtual meeting company in Germany. I’ve written for a businessman in Dubai. You get to do all kinds of cool stuff. You could choose to just work with people in your area if you want. It’s really up to you.
- You don’t have to work in a cube farm. I didn’t mind cubicles as long as I was left alone. I hated being micromanaged. I hated driving an hour to get to work. I hated dropping my older two off at the bus stop.
- You can take a hot bath in the middle of the day or go out to lunch or (insert another perk here).
I mean, really, you can do whatever you want.
The con of working from home as a special needs parent is that it is hard to work when there is a day that my child has behavioral issues. These days are now few and far between, but they do sometimes happen. For other parents, they happen more often and they can’t always get away from the child’s noise (provided there is nothing wrong and the child is not a danger to themselves or others which means it is safe for the parent to potentially not pay attention).
Sometimes, kids are kids regardless and they are loud when you’re in a meeting of any kind. My clients know I have a special needs son. And they know of his propensity to occasionally yell out a Disney lyric or something odd. The majority of them think it’s cute. The rest just know it might happen if he’s home and they say nothing about it. It’s just a risk.
Another con is in the medical arena for many special needs parents. If you’re self-employed, you either might not have insurance or insurance is very expensive if your child isn’t covered by state insurance. Many disabled children are covered by state insurance. Medical emergencies happen. Therapy and medication aren’t cheap. And we love our children.
For Me? The Good Outweighs the Bad
Working remotely as a special needs parent can be challenging, but the benefits can be worth it. For me, the good parts of working from home outweigh the occasional bad parts. Working from home is becoming a more attractive option for working parents. Home-based jobs and businesses offer flexible hours and the ability to stay close to children while they attempt to balance work and family. Frankly, I’m all for special needs parents who want to start a business and begin working at home with kids. Once you’re up and running, it provides job security. You can’t fire yourself.