Today, we are privileged to have Dyana Robbins, M. Ed as our guest. She shares with us her personal story of parenting a special needs child.
- Dyana’s journey of parenting a special needs child
- How she managed challenging behaviors of her children
- Emotional triggers that come with parenting a special needs child and how she dealt with them
- Being compassionate both with herself and her children
- How dealing with her own anxiety helps communicate calm and steadiness to her children
- Support system she found and created in her community
- How her journey impacted her marriage and faith
Links and resources
Dyana Robbins, M. Ed
Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/hopeforanxiety)
Transcript of Episode 35
Hope for anxiety and OCD episode 35. Today on the show, I am interviewing a counselor as well as a special needs Mom. Diana Robbins shares some really great wisdom, on the show today, she asked specifically if we could not share the diagnoses of her children. And so out of respect, we didn’t do that, but I’m sure that regardless of your child’s diagnosis If you are a special needs parent, I know that you will get something out of this episode. We talk about everything from how it impacted her marriage, to how it impacted her faith and relationship with God. So let’s dive right in.
Carrie: Hi, Diana, will you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you wanted to be on the podcast today to share your story.
Diana: Yes, Hi Carrie. Thanks for having me on. I am a wife of 26 years to my husband, Chris and a mom to two teenagers, two teenage sons, and we are also blessed to have our 13-year-old niece living with us. So we’re a family of five. We have been living in Singapore for the past three years, but before that, I was a stay-at-home mom and a homeschooling parent in Houston, Texas.
And in Singapore, I’ve resumed my practice as a grief and trauma therapist and have a practice and do a lot of volunteer work with those who are recovering from trauma and loss in their lives. I wanted to share my story because I have to encourage people who are battling anxiety or OCD and that especially the people that love them to the moms, the dads, other family members that are supporting those who struggle with anxiety. I really like to encourage them as well.
Carrie: Right. And I know that we have people who are struggling that listened to the show, and we also have loved ones that tune in people that have a spouse or boyfriend, girlfriend or child with anxiety or OCD and they’re really trying to understand that individual better because maybe they don’t have the anxiety themselves and can’t necessarily relate personally, but they’re trying to kind of get some more information. So that’s part of a little bit about what we’re doing with the show today. And I think you have the personal, professional and practical information. So it’s a little bit of you’re coming at it from both angles.
Diana: Well, I’ve certainly been gifted with experience in all of those things. And we’re great.
Carrie: What was it like for you as a parent to find out that your child had a developmental disability? Can you take us a little bit through that process?
Diana: Absolutely. So when my children were born, my first son was born. We recognized pretty quickly that he was struggling. And no one really knew why. So it took a process of about three years to get accurate diagnosis. And in that time there was a lot of stress, a lot of worry about what was happening and my husband and I were just doing the best that we could to manage, helping him grow and develop. So when the diagnosis finally came and there were several, it was a mix of relief. It was just really helpful to have at least partial answers to what we were dealing with everyday, but there was also this overwhelming grief that set into that, what we were dealing with would be lifelong and not something that we can just fix quickly and the struggles, and there’s some grief for him as well.
Carrie: I think that makes a lot of sense. You know, there’s kind of multiple emotions as you’re going through that as a parent like, okay, we’re going to be in this for the long haul.
And at the same time, it’s nice to have some kind of idea of what we’re dealing with so that we know how to treat it, or what avenues to pursue professionally.
Diana: Yeah, absolutely. There were a lot of other emotions mixed in with those two main ones and we have fear. I became just this really fierce advocate.
Immediately I went from being just the mom to being an advocate and a student I had a whole new realm of life and learning that I had to adjust to the diagnoses, how to best support my child and I had a lot to learn. So I became an avid student as well. And, that was really challenging for us.
On a spiritual level as well for both me and my husband to receive the diagnosis. And so I think that I look at that time in our life as one of the key spiritual moments that we are crises that we had to overcome really.
Carrie: What kind of challenging behaviors and situations did you experience with your children?
Diana: Well, I would say we faced struggles really across, you know, social, emotional and behavioral levels. All of them. The behaviors that were most challenging were the perseveration type behaviors. My son was really fixated on certain things and you would need a lot of order, a lot of routine, and he would also find really odd passions at a very young age. One of the cutest ones, but also most frustrating was in became very interested in vending machines. It makes it not pass a vending machine in town without having to put a quarter in it and watch, you know, something from out. So if there is a vending machine at the grocery store, have a new machine when we were driving on the road that he saw through the window, we had to stop and we had to see the vending machine and purchase something and go through that whole ritual, or he would become very distressed and have a lot of meltdowns or temper tantrums and things. It was just very overwhelming to him to not be able to engage in these behaviors. That was really challenging. It really interrupted our daily life. As you can imagine, trying to get anywhere and do anything that those kinds of behaviors were maybe the hardest for me as a mother.
Carrie: How did you manage those things and find the balance of giving your son what he needed while also maintaining your own sanity as a parent?
Diana: That’s a great question. To be honest, I didn’t do that so well, a lot of the time. I tried, I tried to find that balance, but it was a daily struggle and some days I lost that struggle, but overall I learned some really important lessons that I think helped me grow in that over time. My husband and I really believed that it was important to help our children become as involved in a typical developmental trajectory as possible.
We wanted to accept them as they are and help them to integrate into life as best we could. Normal what people consider normal life as best we could. And, and that was always something that we had to balance carefully because we didn’t want to push them too hard or to make too many concessions to the things that they were struggling with.
And I don’t know that you ever feel that you’ve got that balance perfectly at any given time, but we did see that it was helping them grow and become more and more able to engage in the world. So we tried to challenge them only as much as they are supported. I was a principle that we have. I actually learned that in graduate school from one of my mentors and he said that we need to challenge people so that they grow, but we can only do that as far as we have supported them to be able to do that.
So that principle was really important in our home. We really manage their home environment. Home became our secure base. So I can’t control things outside in the world that they’re going to encounter and make it orderly and make it routine. Home became our place to really be able to give them that safe place to engage.
When my second son came along and had some of the same challenges, that became especially important because it was the one place that they could really be themselves and it was safe to do so. And they had all the things that they most needed right at hand. We might home be everything that we could for them. But then when we went out, we would limit our time outside. We would take short outings and eventually grow those into longer, more demanding situations. And then we just taught a lot of coping skills. I did a lot of preparing them at home so that when we went out, we had objects that they could take with them to help them be able to stay focused, to help them be able to manage anxiety and feel safe and secure when they went to church or they went to school. Those kinds of things.
Carrie: That’s so huge. I think kids knowing what to expect, This is where we’re going, this is what we’re going to be doing. This is kind of a little bit of what it’s going to look like. And here are some tools that you have, like when you do get anxious or when you do get bored, I think so many times we just kind of don’t break it down enough for children.
I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it, but I think that especially any children that are dealing with anxiety or OCD, they need the explanation in simple language, because we may assume that they understand what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean that they do.
Diana: Absolutely. That’s so critical. Giving very explicit and simple instructions was a key part to their success. I had to learn to give maybe one instruction before I gave another. And allow them to process very simply at first to really help manage that anxiety and keep it at a level that I wasn’t adding to the overwhelm.
Carrie: Right. I know that this is probably something that has come up on the show before or may come up in the future like kids and spouses are really good at stirring up our own stuff internally. And so can you talk a little bit about how some of these behaviors or thought processes triggered you and how you dealt with that?
Diana: Yes. I think that was probably the hardest challenge for me was recognizing. And my kids struggle how much I was struggling myself. Even before I had children, I hadn’t recognized how much anxiety I had myself until I was trying to help my children who had anxiety. And I could see it so much more plainly and as they struggled, then it would trigger us for a deeper struggle in me, all of those fears, all those worries. My own sense of overwhelm, just trying to get us all through the day was when sometimes just become more than I could handle effectively.
So I think that I learned a lot and learning how to help support my children and how to manage my own anxiety and how to be compassionate with myself just as I was trying to be compassionate with my children and to set them up for success, I needed to do the same thing for me in order to support them well.
Carrie: So in a sense, as you are learning how to manage your own anxiety then you were able to teach them certain things that would help them and kind of, as you’re calmer, they’re probably calmer as well.
Diana: Yes, that was really important. I learned very quickly that our children respond so much to the way that we show up for them. If I’m calm that helps communicate calm and steadiness to them that they respond to. When I’m anxious, or I allowed their anxiety to trigger my own, then we have a real problem because then we’re all upset and all overwhelmed and it makes it much more difficult to just to complete anything that we’re trying to accomplish.
So I found that it was so important that I was really grounded and really calm when I approached any tasks with my children and that I could manage my own anxiety privately as best as I could before I really engaged with them was very important.
Carrie: What was the process of finding support like whether that was professional supports or just other parents who could understand what you were going through, spiritual support, all of that.
Diana: Well, it was difficult at first because we live away from our family. My husband and I have never been able to live close to family. So we built it. And God was so gracious in that he put us in an area where there are wonderful therapists all around us. And we had many. We had developmental therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists.
Diana: Yeah. And for both of my sons, they had a very intense schedule therapy, which is part of why we began from schooling just to be able to manage the schedules that we all had. I needed to really be able to educate them from home. And so the homeschooling community also really became a support for our family.
I just made a real effort to get out there and meet other moms and to learn all I could. I looked for support groups in the community and there were some, but they were mostly for older children with the same challenges and adults with anxiety. Those kinds of things. I actually ended up starting a support group so that I could have that support.
It was a wonderful experience. Brought other from spilling parents around that had children with different special needs and tried to talk about the unique challenges of raising kids in home all day with their needs and trying to educate them because that’s a big job. Having that support was really critical to our success.
But I also want to say that I found a neighbor who became a very dear friend to me. She had children the same age, roughly as mine who did not have any developmental challenges, but she was gracious and loving. Actually, I had two neighbors at the time that were that way and loved us well. They brought my children for play dates. They took the time to learn about their behaviors and how to manage them so that I could have a break sometimes while the children played with their children. I don’t know that anything else was more important to me in that period of our life, just to have their support, to be able to connect with moms around things that didn’t have to do with disabilities or the challenges that my kids were facing.
That was just really essential to me.
Carrie: I hope that provides some encouragement maybe for people who are in a situation where they might be able to support and help another family through the process of helping raise their children because you never know, like what kind of impact you could potentially have in people’s lives. And we all need each other, parents I think in general, just need each other, but especially, so when you’re raising a child that has specific needs.
Diana: Yes, I feel that it will encourage people. I know my friends if they were speaking with you today would tell you that they felt that the relationship with our family taught them a lot too, but it was beneficial on both sides.
Although it wasn’t a tremendous ministry to my family. And I feel like it certainly probably benefited us more than anyone. They will tell you that it benefited them as well, that they learned a lot from having our children be part of their children’s lives and watching them play together.
And we of course tried to really reciprocate to those families as well, not just to receive from them, but to post them in our home and to show love to them as well. And I think it was just some really beautiful relationships that developed as our children grew up together.
Carrie: That’s a really beautiful story. Let’s talk a little bit about how this is impacted your marriage because I’ve heard that statistically, people who are raising children with any kind of special needs have a higher divorce rate than average. How did this affect your marriage and how did you and your husband work through some of those bumps in the road?
Diana: Well, that’s a great question. I could probably talk about that the entire time we had today. But I was thinking in general that raising children with special needs and the anxiety and things that came with that for them really challenged our marriage more than anything else that we’ve faced, but it’s also been the way that God has strengthened our marriage probably more than anything else. So it’s been both a really difficult and wonderful thing at the same time. We’ve learned several survival skills that I’ll share in case they’re helpful to others. But one is how important it is that we actually communicate in a healthy way.
I think when you have typical challenges and marriage and parenting it’s difficult anyway, good communication is important, but when you have children with special needs and the constant demands of that, it becomes even more important because you have so little time together and you need that time together.
Where you’re alone to really have this really clear communication that’s very healthy. We had to accept each other’s limits. That was really important. And to recognize when my anxiety or his anxiety with dealing with the challenges was too high. And to step in not with any judgements, but to just try to step in for one another and say, Hey, you know, I’ve got this situation. I can take it from here for a little bit, you know, go grab a cup of coffee or, you know, go work in the yard a bit. I’ve got this. And to really just understand that there’s only so much we can take. We’re human too. And to make room for us to have our own limits was really important. We make amazing at dividing and conquering tasks. We developed that pretty early in the marriage to survive. And some, we just took on the task that we each were best at and did that really well and work together as a team. And that was really helpful to me because we weren’t constantly reinventing the wheel to get through every day.
We just knew what we needed to do. And that helped a lot. That reduced my anxiety a lot to know that he had certain areas covered and I didn’t have to think about them and, and then I would handle the others. So, yeah, I think those were some of the main things that we learned as far as tips, but encouraging self-care. My partner was really important too.
Sometimes we have recognized ourselves when we’re really overwhelmed and anxious. We see it for our children that we couldn’t always see it for ourselves. And so my husband and I learned to help one another recognize when we were at that place. And to encourage self-care not just a temporary break, but how has your spiritual life going.
You had to do a hobby that you enjoy or to connect with a friend to call your family does most of the really important things that we did for one another.
Carrie: Right. Good. I think some of that’s good for, for any marriage, some of the principles that you just outlined, just a sense of knowing your strengths, knowing your limitations, learning how to communicate with each other. That’s an ongoing process, I think for married couples. Very good insights there.
How would you say that this journey with your children has impacted your faith?
Diana: Well, you hit on probably the first thing I always say about it already, Carrie, you said that recognizing limitations is important. And that was the first thing I think that I had to learn spiritually was that there are limits, I think before having children and these challenges in our home, there really, hadn’t been very much that my husband and I hadn’t been able to tackle together very well the challenges that we hadn’t been able to overcome. And just through hard work and effort, and you can’t fix anxiety, you can’t fix developmental challenges with hard work and effort. You can’t power your way through that.
And so we had to learn that we have limits and our children have limits. And that it was okay. It really humbled us, I think and deepened our need for the Lord in ways that I don’t think we would’ve grown and recognized until the children came into our family. We became very aware that we need a God for everything. And I wish that I had had a deeper sense of that before, but really the Lord used our children and their needs to drive that point home.
And I’m thankful that he did.
Carrie: It just ended up leading you to like a greater place of dependence on God.
Diana: Absolutely. And it really caused me to really shrink life down to its basic elements for many years.
Our story is much different now, but in the early years of dealing with all of this, I was really happy to get a shower. If I could everybody say all the toddlers, you know, or we’re doing well. We had gotten through the day, their basic needs are met and my basic needs were met, I was really, really happy.
That was a successful day. That was a triumph. But in doing that and having this very small circle in life, I realized that I can focus more on the Lord too like I have so many fewer distractions and the quiet because life was so basic and it really helped my husband and are both, I think, focused on eternal things more, to become more in touch with the fact that things may not be what we desire or sometimes even feel that we need them to be here, but that we have an eternal hope that we can cling to that even if things don’t get better. Here that we will be okay. That this is not a forever situation. And that hope became very real to me in those years. For sure.
Carrie: How are your sons doing now?
Diana: I’m really happy to report that the prognoses and things that we received when they were young has really been blown out of the water.
I guess if to say we’ve gone from home homeschooling lifestyle so that we can just manage behaviors and allow them to learn in a safe environment for them to maybe in our costs the world and going to competitive international schools and you know, all of these things that are anxiety-producing for anyone.
And my son’s been able to manage that extremely well. My oldest is going to university in the fall of this year and. He’s graduated without really much support anymore academically or socially at school or emotionally at school. He’s really impressed. All of us, I think with the sheer amount of effort and work and perseverance that he’s demonstrated over the years.
And my younger son is right behind him and he’s in 10th grade this year. He’s finishing that up and plans to get a university as well, which are things that we just never dreamed of, you know, really being potentials for them when they were young. And we were getting all of this news. So we have a lot of joy in this season, seeing all that God has done the ways that he has not just helped us overcome that a lot, many of the challenges, although that’s wonderful and we’re thankful for that, but really the people that he shaped us into through these struggles and seeing that character formed in my children as well. And that love for the Lord that they carry with them because they’ve had to depend on him so much is a great encouragement to me, probably the best thing.
Carrie: Right. I think that’s something that we’ve seen with really all of the personal stories that we’ve of people we’ve had on the show that I’ve struggled with anxiety or OCD is that they’ll say it caused me to know more about God. It caused me to grow closer to him. It was part of my sanctification process of becoming more like Christ. And I think that your story really fits in, with all of that. And when we’re in the middle of it, it’s so easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day trials that we’re facing. And a lot of times we don’t see the bigger picture until maybe sometimes years later. And then we take a step back and we’re like, wow, God really used that situation in my life for good, but when I was in the midst of it, I just couldn’t see anything good about it. And I was just there just going through the motions, just trying to survive like you said.
Diana: Yes, absolutely. And I think that that perspective is so critical. It’s easier to have when you’re looking backwards like I am now. It’s so overwhelming, sometimes that all you can do is just kind of ask the Lord to come to you in that place because you don’t have anything to reach out to him with. That’s such a wonderful thing that he does, that he does come into our mess. He does come into the chaos. He does come into all of the things that we can’t manage on our own. And, and brings his peace when we don’t have it. And when we experienced that, it helps us understand that there is something more than what we’re struggling with.
Carrie: Right. So I feel like your, your whole story has been hopeful, but because I always ask this question to every guest, I’m going to ask it to you. What is the time in your life where you have received hope from God or another person?
Diana: There have been so many times that the Lord himself has done that and he used other people to do that for us. But I think I’ll share the one where it was one of my darkest moments. I was much older. We were both really young and really struggling, kind of at the crisis point, I guess, for their challenges. I had one of those days where I really couldn’t even have my own thoughts. I was just trying to keep them happy and getting through their day.
And we had a lot of outbursts, a lot of meltdowns and a lot of anxiety that day. All the way around with both of my sons and with me, myself. And I finally put them in their rooms for quiet time, which was my saving grace that they had by at time every day. And I just kind of collapsed in a heap on the floor.
And I told the Lord really clearly that I needed him to change that situation, or I needed him to change me because I didn’t know how to go forward even one more step. And that feeling, even as I talk about it, it’s still just really present. It was such a moment I had really come to the end of myself and as I was crying and telling him these things, I just felt his presence really powerfully.
And he reminded me that he was with me and that he was, he was going to be enough and he didn’t tell me how he was going to do that. He didn’t impress on my heart, the plan for the next five or 10 years or anything like that. But he just met me in that place. And I just felt his presence.
I was encouraged by scripture and things that I needed so desperately in that moment that reminded me that there was more than that one moment that I was stuck in. And at that point, things really changed in our family. We became a family that wasn’t driven by the challenges and just constantly reacting to them, but a family that was looking beyond them to something more. And that shift made all the difference in being able to cope with the anxiety that we were all feeling and changed us I think. It’s certainly changed me forever to find him there.
Carrie: Yeah, that’s awesome. I loved what you said earlier about just God really entering into those places with us. You know, the, whether it’s the mess or the loneliness or the heartache or the, I just can’t do this anymore. One more day. I just can’t seem to do this.
That he’ll be right there and that he pursues us in that process. I love that.
Thank you so much for being on the show and telling your story. I know that it’s going to encourage and inspire some other people.
Diana: Thank you for having beyond theory. It’s a privilege to get to meet you and to hopefully share our story in a way that will maybe help somebody else keep going too.
There are so many amazing special needs parents out there. So shout out to you if you are in that category. And I hope this episode was encouraging to you. If that’s the case, stay tuned for future episodes where we’re going to be talking about everything from brainspotting to self-care to dealing with doubt.
You can find us online anytime at www.thopeforanxietyandocd.com.
Thanks so much for listening.
Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed by Benjamin Bynam.
Until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.