Tara Thompson On Raising A Daughter With A Dual Diagnosis—Cerebral Palsy + Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mom + Friend: Tara Thompson
By PJ Feinstein
Tara Thompson’s middle daughter, Willow, was born prematurely at 29 weeks. During a routine brain scan when she was three weeks old in NICU, a doctor explained to Tara and her husband, Kirk, that there was grey matter on Willow’s brain, which would likely lead to complications or disabilities.
Willow, now four years old, was officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was seven months old. “Although I knew this was more than likely the case, I was still in shock,” Tara remembers. “The truth is it took me a few years to reach the acceptance stage.”
Three years later, Willow received a second diagnosis: autism spectrum disorder. “I found this diagnosis easier to deal with as I knew that a diagnosis was a way to help assist my daughter, to find the right therapies to assist her,” Tara says.
These days, Tara, who used to work in early childhood and primary education, shares home therapy ideas on her blog and other websites while caring for Willow and her two sisters, Ava (6) and Indy (18 months). We talked to the Australian “mum” about juggling her many responsibilities and how she squeezes in time for herself in spite of a busy schedule.
What's the most challenging thing about raising a child with special needs?
The most challenging thing is managing my daughter’s additional needs on top of “normal” mum life. I have two other daughters, and I find it difficult to fit everything in sometimes. Yes, we have a lot of appointments, but it isn’t just the appointments. It’s the everyday extras such as time to massage and stretch in the morning, to assist her with daily tasks, to complete therapy at home, ect., while still trying to be a dedicated mum to my other two girls.
What's one amazing thing you wish people knew about Willow?
My daughter constantly amazes me with her mind. The way she thinks and perceives the world is so interesting. She remembers everything -- peoples’ names, the order in which things are done, stories, what people say. She is always telling me all of these interesting things she knows and is so curious about the world around her. I often wonder what she will do when she is older.
Where is your family's happy place?
It sounds cliché but our happy place is usually at home. Sometimes it can be stressful going on outings. As fun and enjoyable as they are, there are always the extras to think of (the physical and emotional challenges that our daughter's faces). When Kirk is home, and the girls are all content and happy, and we do something like have a yummy Sunday morning breakfast together or have a special Saturday pizza movie night, that’s our happy place.
What self-care rituals help keep you sane?
Being a special needs mum can be exhausting and overwhelming, and I am trying to create ways to ensure I take time to give myself some love. My husband works long hours which means there isn’t really the option to take some time out, but one thing I love to do is wake early and go for a walk before anyone wakes. It sets me up for the day and helps me to start the day with a better attitude.
Every morning I have a little routine, which also brings some calmness to my morning. I open the blinds, make the bed, and put my diffuser on. It’s simple but it helps me to start my day feeling happy and content.
Who are your three favorite moms to follow on Instagram?
Instagram has allowed me to connect with so many wonderful people and mums that make this journey seem less lonely.
Ileana (@thespeciallifeofus) was one of the first mums I connected with. I love how real she is, what she shares, and how she advocates not only for her daughter Giselle but for the special needs community.
Another favourite is Natalie (@natalierobertsmazzeo). I just love watching how she navigates her way through this special needs journey and shares insight with us all on how to cherish the journey of being a mum to a child with additional needs. She has a strong focus on how we need to look after ourselves, and I find it empowering and uplifting.
Rachael (@rach_n_jamie) and I connected initially as our children both have cerebral palsy and are the same age and with similar personalities. Rachael has become a close mum friend who is always checking in on me, someone I have never met but can talk to about so many things. It’s a unique and special friendship.
What TV show, book, and/or podcast are you currently obsessed with?
I don’t really watch TV often or listen to podcasts. I enjoy reading but struggle to find the time lately. But if I do find a series on Netflix I enjoy, I very easily become hooked and will stay up way to late each night until I finish it, and then I won’t watch anything for a few months. The most recent Netflix series I watched and loved was Queen of the South.
What five words best describe you?
Creative, Caring, Sensitive, Enthusiastic and Organised
What advice would you give a new special needs mom?
I often have parents reach out to me whose child has just been diagnosed, and I just want to hug them. I know what an overwhelming, daunting time it is. My advice is to let them feel however they need to feel. They have every right to feel upset and angry or sad and confused. I also tell them to not put too much pressure on themselves and that their child will help and guide them through while teaching them so many wonderful things along the way.