Sean is dad to 3 children, including Harrison who has cerebral palsy. We sat down to chat about his insights and experiences on raising a child with a disability and what he’s learnt so far.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a dad of a child with a disability, and how do you navigate them?
Sean: The biggest challenge is trying to be as supportive to my wife Pay Pay as I possibly can, as she’s the one who has to juggle therapies, doctors’ appointments, school drop-off/pick-up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, activities, liaising with charities and support workers, specialists – the list goes on and on!
How do you balance the needs of your child with a disability with the needs of your other children?
We work together and try to mix up which parent takes which children to sports, therapy or outings. Obviously working full-time, it makes it harder for me to attend the weekday 9-5 appointments, but we always try to involve all the kids in after school activities together.
How do you prioritise and maintain your own well-being and emotional health while caring for your child?
Our main focus is the kids, both our child with the disability and the others, but I do have an outlet in the form of music (I play in a band that the kids also occasionally get to come along to watch). Working full- time also means I’m around other adults 8 hours a day which does give me some form of respite.
How do you prepare your child for independence and adulthood?
We try to normalise our son’s disability as much as possible, and we encourage him to do as much as he can without our assistance. We are extremely lucky that he is a very headstrong and happy little trooper which hopefully will be beneficial in the future.
What are your biggest fears for your child and how do you manage those feelings?
I worry about his peers and how he could be the target of teasing because of his disability. At this stage there has been no indication of this, and even though he’s only just turned 6, he seems to have a good little group around him. Added to that is the additional support by all the teachers involved at his school, most of whom have known him since a baby. This is reassuring.
What advice would you give to other dads who are new to parenting a child with a disability?
Listen. Listen to your partner. Listen to your child/children. Listen to all the advice from other parents and professionals. It helps being more informed than winging it. Not everything will suit you or your child, but the more information you have, the better decisions you can make. And always ask for help.
What are some of the most rewarding moments you’ve experienced as a dad?
The main milestones. The first steps, first words and then there’s the belly laughs, the cuddles, the unintelligible chats, the really bad jokes, the school certificates that mean so much to them. Enjoy the small things, they’re the best.
What resources and support have been most helpful to you in your journey as a dad of a child with a disability?
Without a doubt my wife. She has been the rock that has held this family together. She has researched every possible avenue of treatment and support (both financial and mental) to make this journey less stressful, and still pushes to get the most she possibly can to help not only our son with the disability, but our other two kids as well. All of our son’s support workers and everyone at his school are also very integral in the whole process. Also, without our 3-months-bookings-in-advance calendar I’d be lost!