All posts by ritaeichenstein

Parents of Special Needs Kids – Yes, You Are the Best Employee; Here’s Why

Two years ago, I was six months pregnant with identical twins and working at a job in health communications that I loved. Then my daughters were born three months early via emergency Caesarean section. I spent the next 14 months at the children’s hospital while my daughters underwent multiple surgeries and learned how to breathe independently.

My career aspirations? Forget the back burner. They were consigned to another stratosphere.

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children has a special health-care need, and that percentage continues to increase. This reality can force parents like me into an impossible conundrum: Should I prioritize my career or my kid?

Roughly 40 percent of American parents of children with disabilities will leave the workforce to become a full-time caregiver. The other 60 percent will make workplace accommodations — such as taking more days off — to bring their child to appointments or to attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings.

I left the full-time workforce to be our daughters’ primary caregiver, becoming a part-time consultant to keep my resume fresh for when I would be able to return to a 9-to-5 job. And I resigned myself to the idea that my professional development would stall at the ripe old age of 32.

Then I discovered something unexpected: All of the advocacy work I was doing in the children’s hospital and doctor’s offices was transforming me into a more capable professional.

The twice-daily hospital rounds with a team of doctors? Here I honed my relationship-building abilities. Managing caregiving schedules for twins in different locations? This helped me learn how to delegate effectively. All of those calls with my insurance company battling medical bills? An FBI hostage negotiator could not have imagined a better training exercise. And my crash course in neonatology gave me confidence I could handle anything that fell into my lap.

This got me thinking. What if we challenged the prevailing cultural narrative that having a special-needs child was incompatible with our career growth? What if we reframed caregiving as excellent leadership training in disguise? So I asked around and discovered other parents who have found the advocacy they did every day for their children helped sharpen their professional skills.

Judy Welage, of New York City, says having a daughter, now 13, with a rare endocrine disorder improved her ability to get things accomplished.

“You know that adage ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person?’” Welage says. “That was me when my daughter was little.”

According to Dr Rita Eichenstein, a pediatric neuropsychologist in Los Angeles and author of “Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children,” an increase in productivity is not uncommon among parents.

When people become parents, they become more goal-directed and better able to prioritize,” Eichenstein says. “They become more conscientious employees, more focused and get more done in less time.”

Persistence is another skill parents of special needs children hone advocating for their child at school or the specialist’s office.

“Being a mom of a special-needs child means that you sometimes face overwhelming challenges,” says Jodi Gallaer, of Farmingdale, N.Y., mom of a 10-year-old with a nonverbal form of autism. “You get knocked down and told no a million times. After that, running a business seems a bit easier. Your skin is thicker, and you have a better perspective.”

Parents of atypical children also must be willing to engage in difficult conversations, another hallmark of workplace leadership.

“Before having kids, I usually would avoid arguments and wouldn’t stand up for myself if it meant any possible contention,” says Holly Anderson, a mom of three children with special needs in Provo, Utah. “But now that I have needed to stand up for my kids in many situations, I have completely changed that mind-set.”

Other parents experience an improved ability to manage the many competing tasks in their lives that can involve delegating to their child’s caregiving team.

“I’ve learned the value of having a strong support network and realizing that I cannot support my child on my own,” says April Lisbon, a school psychologist and mom of a 13-year-old boy with autism in Fredericksburg, Va. Developing project management skills has allowed her to meet her son’s needs while continuing to grow her family life coach practice.

Special needs parents are discriminated against at work very subtly. No one thinks of it as discrimination,” Eichenstein says. “But it is.”

To read the full article, click here:


It Took Her 23 Years To Get Diagnosed With ADHD. It Takes Many Women Even Longer.

Girls with ADHD are typically not the “squeaky wheel” that boys with ADHD can be. Their symptoms are more subtle but no less problematic.

READ Kelsey’s personal essay about the difficulty of receiving an ADHD diagnosis as a girl or woman. She interviewed me for her article.
— Read on

Declining Connectivity in our Digital Age

So — how was your Thanksgiving?

Was it full of lots of warm family time, sharing family jokes, looking at old family photos and making new memories?

What, no? That wasn’t what happened?

Let me guess.

Did you decide to skip the cooking and go out to a very noisy restaurant where you plopped iPads in front of your kids to keep them happy between courses?

Or — maybe you slaved over the stove all day and — while everyone watched the football game – you plopped your kids in front of iPads so you could cook and serve?

Or — just maybe your family did manage that iconic game of outside family football – and then— all return to check your iPhones in the bathroom?

No judgment here, just an awareness of how the world is changing. Despite the increased sense of virtual connectivity that we all enjoy from our use of internet, smart phones, iPads, etc (trust me, I couldn’t live without it either) we are increasingly feeling isolated and empty. And physically restless.

In a brilliant piece written by Diane Ackerman, one of my favorite authors, she discusses how the digital world is seriously having an impact on evolving brains as well as our relationships to one another.

In case you don’t have time for article reading ( Article here )the gist of it all is:

To stay emotionally connected, make sure your child isn’t learning about their world through only pixelated images. Sensory impoverishment accompanies the digital world which changes the way we relate to each other, our world and our internal sense of belonging.

Here’s how to re-connect:

GO outside on adventures with your kids.

FEEL the sand, the rocks, the wind.

MAKE time for actual interconnectedness – strong hugs, hand holding, wrestling and stroking those soft little heads.

SNIFF the scent of those babes and let them breathe you in too.

LAY in the grass or the snow and look at the sky together.

ROLL down a grassy knoll or roll in the snow.

LAUGH a lot together, make time to be silly.

Here’s hoping your holidays are joyous!

Parents with Disabilities

Today, my guest writer, Ashley Taylor, is writing to support those with disabilities who want to have children, read on!  

What Anyone With A Disability Needs  To Know About Becoming A Parent

Babies don’t come with an instruction manual, so it’s understandable why new parents have the jitters for the first few weeks. Among the scenarios that cause nervousness, fear of tripping or dropping the baby tops the list — this is likely top of mind for parents with disabilities, too. But considering there are approximately 4.1 million disabled adults managing parenthood, you’re not exactly exploring uncharted territory. With a little preparation and self-care, you’ll be able to begin the next chapter of your life with confidence and safety.

Make Any Necessary Home Modifications

It’s likely that you already have some home modifications in place, but just in case, projects that can help a parent with a disability include:

  • Expandable hinges to widen doorways for easier wheelchair accessibility
  • Replacing steps with a ramp
  • Placing safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs
  • Installing skid-resistant flooring to prevent slips
  • Creating a clutter-free playroom with anchored furniture
  • Making kitchen countertops and the stove at an accessible height
  • Installing a loop lever faucet in the bathroom to make it easier to use from a distance
  • Keeping cleaning and changing essentials on a rolling cart so they’re easy to access at all times
  • If lower, specialty cribs are too expensive, do a DIY version by cutting the legs off a regular crib and then placing it on risers

Make Time To Relax

Numerous studies indicate that stress and (in some cases) depression can kick in after the baby is born. Finding time to relax — even just five to ten minutes a day — can make the difference between a slightly stressful day and an unbearable one. Even just five to ten minutes a day can help. The same techniques that are used to help relax individuals with a disability can be applied to parenthood. From visualization and meditation to yoga and self-hypnosis, here are several options available to you.

Before baby arrives, make sure there’s an area in your home that you can designate specifically for downtime. Outfit the space with oxygen-rich plants, drapes and wall coverings in soothing tones, a dimmer switch for lighting and a comfortable piece of furniture to rest on.

Don’t Neglect Self-Care

While you’ll be busier than ever after your little one arrives, don’t use that as an excuse to neglect self-care. Work with your spouse/partner on a schedule so you can take time to go to exercise, return phone calls, or meet a friend.

Another important factor that sometimes falls to the wayside with parenting is personal hygiene, to include brushing and flossing, bathing, doing your hair, and getting dressed — even if you don’t leave the house. From a psychological standpoint, you’ll feel better about yourself while feeling prepared to take on the day with confidence.


Eat For Energy — And Stress-Relief

What you put in your body affects what you’ll be able to handle physically and mentally, which is crucial for anyone let alone a busy parent. When considering what to eat, don’t neglect nutritious foods including nuts, red peppers, oatmeal, spinach and salmon as they also have stress-relieving benefits.

 While you may want to handle everything on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help — and don’t feel guilty for doing so. Along with tapping your loved ones, make sure you’re aware of the resources available to you as a disabled parent, to include everything from financial support to support groups where you can share your feelings and frustrations.

You’re embarking on an exciting journey so take care of yourself so you can effectively take care of your baby.

Ashley Taylor is a freelance writer, photographer, and advocate for people with disabilities. She created to provide information and resources to other parents with disabilities. When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.