Hypervigilance in Parents of Children with Special Needs

Aug 6, 2021

Love, guilt, and responsibility are all powerful emotions that shape who we are in life. Parenting children with special needs might entail placing a magnifying glass on these emotions. As a special needs parent, you might feel hypervigilant of everything your child does or does not do. You are afraid to make mistakes or overlook something important as it pertains to your child's development and well-being.

Hypervigilance, or the over-reaction to a situation, is a common behavior and reaction in parents of children with special needs. This can cause parents to make decisions that appear absurd to an outsider.

Parenting a special needs child can bring about overwhelming feelings. Parents try to do what seems best given their circumstances. However, parents can subconsciously start allowing fears of failure and rejection to rule their decisions.

Parents of children with special needs are ten times more likely to experience hypervigilance than parents of typically developing children.  For example, parents hypervigilant of their child with autism can go as far as monitoring their child's every move and word. Overemphasizing the smallest of behavior as a sign of impending Armageddon. They scurry about on eggshells, walking on tiptoes to curb danger seemingly hovering over them in every situation. Their world is sucked into a black hole generating an infinite degree of stress engulfing them. They are completely destroyed by paranoia that all is not well in the universe where every little thing may cause harm.  

People might judge parents for being hypervigilant, but it is coming from a place of deep care. No parent wants the stress that comes from being hypervigilant. Though it might be expressed in an unhealthy way, hypervigilance stems from the desire to make a child feel safe and protected.    

Parents are often hypervigilant because they are trying to do their best for their children. They should never be judged for doing what any parent will do given the circumstance. We all have fears which can affect us in different ways. Whether we realize it or not, there is an instinct in us to try to avoid something which might hurt us. Fear is a normal feeling many people experience. It is not abnormal for parents to feel extra watchful over their kids.

While we have our reservations about being hypervigilant, there are many children's lives that have been saved because of a parent's watchful eyes. Fear has its place in our lives. Sometimes, fear can be useful.  

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