From Joy to Terror: The Emotional Toll of a High Needs Child


Raising kids is hard. They reveal areas needing growth, challenge us to the very core, trigger past trauma, and threaten our sanity every day. 

Then when you have a high needs child, it adds another layer of intensity.

And yet, most parents suffer quietly.

I know; I’m one of them.

From Joy to Terror: the Emotional Toll of a High Needs Child

Some days it feels like I’m too tired, overwhelmed, and just plain heartbroken to even complain.

I simply don’t have time or energy. I’m too busy problem-solving, trying something new, getting help with my head bent in fierce determination to help my child, thinking:  “There HAS to be something I’m missing.”

And. It. Is. Exhausting.

But I know I’m not the only one.

He’s a Joy

For anyone who has met my sweet, inquisitive, clever, loquacious, adventurous 7-year old, you would agree: he’s a joy. He is kind, caring, empathic, and affectionate.

And… he’s also a terror.

Most would not believe that I’ve had to take him to the emergency room because he was so violent that I felt mine and my other son’s lives and safety were in danger. 

I have to think about someone calling the police when he explodes so violently the neighbors can hear. It would seem wildly insane if I were to tell others he has threatened to murder me in explicit detail, or that I’ve had to hide knives in my house. Most would not ever guess that he’s been in therapy and on medication since he was three years old.

The emotional toll of a high needs child can feel intensely overwhelming.

And when someone witnesses it for the first time, it’s a startling reminder that this is NOT normal.

Nothing about this is normal.

It is not normal for my child to suddenly act like a demon has taken over his body and mind.

And It’s Still Hard

I’m blessed to have health insurance, a supportive family, a loving and dedicated co-parent, and a team of doctors, and a therapist working with us. I’m way beyond guilt, shame, or self-blame, and I have no problem asking for and accepting help.

And it’s still heartbreakingly painful, not to mention lonely. It’s like a never-ending grief that gets triggered every time he screams at or attacks me. And it’s so discombobulating because his lid flips so quickly. 

I know him to be a sweet, kind, and loving person; yet so often I witness the very opposite. I grieve the time lost with him when he’s stuck in his tornado, the impatience that has started bubbling within me, and the fear that I won’t be able to help him. 

I’m endlessly resentful for COVID taking away so much that helped me be a better mom. I hate that I cannot take my child to school and rely on that community, I’m angry that virtual therapy doesn’t work for a 7-year old, and I’m frustrated that we can’t see our friends. 

Never Alone

But I do know this: I am not alone. YOU are not alone.

Can you relate? Are you feeling the emotional toll of a high needs child?

Let us commit to not suffering in silence. 

Reach out. To me, a friend, a pediatrician, a therapist, anyone really.

This is too hard to do on our own.


APA Children’s Mental Health

NIMH Children and Mental Health

NAMI Oregon resources list



  1. Jenelle, thank you for being brave and sharing your story—I’m sure it will help so many other parents to know they’re not alone. <3

  2. I’m tearing up reading this, because I have never felt so seen in my struggles with my almost 6yo. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Jennie, thank you so much for sharing. I’m sad to hear that you can relate, but so glad that it spoke to you and helped you not feel so alone. Reach out anytime, I’m on IG and FB. Hugs, mama!

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