Jude and Daisy Morris are qualified and experienced counsellors whose grounding came as missionaries with YWAM for 16 years.
One of Daisy’s areas of expertise as a qualified mental health and social worker is to come alongside parents who have a child with a disability.
The emotional and mental challenges are overwhelming for these parents and Daisy described their ordeal as a long and lonely road.
“I always tell parents who come to me for advice ‘It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon so we’ve got to take this day by day.”
“We’re talking about sleeplessness, we’re talking about exhaustion, we’re talking about social isolation and fear of what’s going to happen in the future,” Daisy said saying it’s very scary for parents looking at it from a long term perspective.
A devastating discovery
As an example Daisy spoke about a young person who has a child with autism and who has come through the experience relatively intact because of their faith in Jesus.
Jude and Daisy speak from personal experience with their son being autistic.
“It’s only because of the grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and with the practical support that enhanced our lives.”
So how was it for Jude and Daisy – to learn their son was autistic. How did they take it?
“It was quite devastating when we discovered our son had autism.”
An extremely difficult time
Jude mentioned statistics that were equally as devastating.
“The statistics showed that within four years of the diagnosis of a child with a disability 80 percent of marriages collapse.”
Jude said it’s because of the pressure. It’s so intense, and so much so the family is not able to cope with the stress. That being the case Jude and Daisy were no exception.
“We went through an extremely difficult time. There were very challenging behaviours. With our son we were not equipped we had no experience. There were very dark despairing days,” Jude confessed.
Both agree it was their faith and the belief that God would never leave them – even when they could not pray He was still there. ‘The Spirit groans and speaks for us’ was how Jude described this passage of their ordeal. The couple sought counsel.
“We were with YWAM at the time and the community rallied around us. They prayed for us and helped us.”
That said Jude admitted it took them to some deep places in their marriage.
“Places that we would not have explored or gone to because that was the depth of pain or despair. But by holding on to each other and with the support of the community and God’s help we have managed to keep our marriage intact.”
Jude said their marriage has been transformed into a more authentic and deep relationship with both parents there for their son.
Daisy said the best legacy you can give a child is an intact marriage.
“They can feel secure within an intact family system. It’s not riches and money children are looking for, it’s their parents.”
“It’s the attachment children are looking for. When we as parents are in a good place emotionally we are in a much better place to look after them.”
Church volunteers to the rescue
“That actually provides the security for a young person or a child with a disability. To be who they are and they can function in a much enhance fashion,” was how Daisy described it.
It was Daisy and Jude’s good fortune to receive support from the church and especially when they undertook the ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) program for their son that required a number of volunteers.
“Believe it or not we had eight women who stepped up to the plate and said they would devote one hour of their week and help you with the ABA program. They did that for 2-and a-half-years with us,” Daisy said.
One of the benefits of the church volunteers help was that it reduced the cost of the program.
The support was practical. Jude and Daisy could take a shower, they could go shopping, and the volunteers volunteered to babysit.
“When we needed to go somewhere for a couple of days there were people who said, ‘leave your child with us and we will look after him’ and these were beautiful godly people.”
The child who cries the most
Although the volunteers could not fix Jude and Daisy’s ordeal, what they provided was immeasurable.
“It was their actions. They would rally around us which made it easy for us to walk through the grief process.”
Then there are the siblings – the children in the family without a disability. In a normal family environment Daisy said it’s the child who cries the most who get the most attention.
“The child who is physically and mentally ok seems to get left behind. I tend to see a lot of kids with sibling rivalry on account of this particular issue.”
Daisy stressed it’s not only about the child with the disability who needs the focus.
“It’s also the children who appear to function. They need the support as well so that they feel they’re wanted and accepted and so they in turn will be able to look after their siblings as well.”
What both Jude and Daisy experienced, and now counsel others with children disabled and otherwise, was the strengthening of the parents through empathy and being among those who can allow the grief to surface. That’s not always the case.
Support respite and safe-care
“There are a lot of people around us sometimes who are not comfortable talking about grief. So it’s really crucial for parents to come to a place where they can just come and talk about their grief uncensored – where they can cry – where they’re not fixed,” Daisy explained.
“So it’s addressing the grief, it’s also giving them strategies to work through the grief and at the same time look after their children.”
Again Daisy emphasised the need to find people who can provide the right support, that being respite and what she calls ‘safe-care.’
“I always use the analogy of flying in a plane. We are asked as parents to first apply the mask to ourselves first and then the child.”
But the crunch question always is, ‘Why Me?’ Daisy said the question definitely surfaces in the early days.
‘Why Father, why us?’
“It just hits you and you say, ‘Why me, Lord?’ And the anger that comes out is just incredible.”
Daisy said it’s important to allow space for that anger because God can take that anger.
“There have been times when I’ve sat on the Lord’s lap and I have just pummelled His chest and said, ‘Why Father, why us?”
“What followed was the Lord’s beautiful embrace, of rocking me to say, ‘I know you’re going through this rough time but I’ve got you and your boy.”
“So if the church can offer that, to allow somebody to express that anger, to express that grief, and to feel safe in that environment – then those families can go very far.”
Another key to making the ‘marathon’ easier is when the parents of the child with the disability can relinquish control. Normally mothers especially, take it upon themselves and feel they need to do everything.
An inner strength that grows
“That’s where respite comes into play,” Daisy said, expressing a mother’s need to be willing to take a break from the child. That comes with trust.
“It gets easier when they’re able to trust somebody, and trust the Lord in the process and say, ‘Let me send my child to respite so I can look after myself. And when I have looked after myself I’ll be able to look after my child better.’”
As the years go by the challenges change but there’s an inner strength that grows during those years. Daisy said it gets easier if the Lord is included.
“As recently as two weeks ago I had to learn to release my son. It was very hard for me to release my son into somebody else’s care.” For Daisy it was still difficult even though she’s been releasing her son at times over the past two years.
“The whole releasing is actually a process. And for that we need the support.”
If you would like to listen to the full audio interview click play below
Autism alone is one of the fastest growing disabilities in the world.
While children on the spectrum are supported through early intervention measures there is very little support for parents and caregivers. Most parents with children with disabilities or chronic health problems experience a great deal of stress, anxiety, sadness, grief and trauma. Hence receiving counselling from a therapist who understands the challenges they present, can provide family members with empathetic support and guidance.
Daisy can offer much needed counselling support for parents and caregivers.
For more information – openhandcounselling.com.au