Why special needs parenting is a lot like Survivor




Survivor Logo

These words form the well known motto of Survivor, the reality TV game where contestants are stranded in a tropical location and forced to rely on their wits, strength and endurance to survive.

In the game, contestants need to be smarter, more strategic and stronger than their tribe mates. They need to use all their skills in order to ouwit, outplay and outlast their competitors.

Reacquainting myself with the show again, I believe these skills are equally important for special needs parents too.

Why special needs parenting is like Survivor - www.myhometruths.com

I really believe that special needs parenting is a lot like Survivor.

Think about it.


Parents need to outwit their children. They need to anticipate every possible scenario so they can guide their kids to where they want them to go. I remember expeditions to shopping centres where I pre-planned where I was going to park and the route through the centre I was going to take in order to get to my destination safely without having to spend 20 minutes at the black and white ATM (my son’s favourite).

I gave myself extra points for avoiding sensory meltdowns along the way.

Special needs parents need to outwit their kids when it comes to:

  • food (I can’t be the only one who has switched brands but still kept the original brand packaging for their benefit)
  • attending medical appointments (I need to have a good bribe up my sleeve to make a trip to the specialist a success)
  • going to school (school refusal is a unique test of my skills of negotiation, persuasion and persistence)
  • trying new things (ditto to the above plus a liberal dose of bribery)
  • getting organised (this is one area I still struggle in but routine and reward charts can help)

These are all every day examples of using experience, knowledge and cunning as a special needs parent to outwit your child in order to survive.


Parents need to outplay the system in order to get the help and support they need. They need to network and build alliances with everyone around them and know when to call bluffs or pull triggers. They need to decide which fire to put out first to avoid the most long-term damage while considering which fire to light in order to get the action and attention required.

Special needs parents need to become masters of playing the game to have any chance of coming out on top. They need to know who to talk to, who to escalate concerns to and who they can trust to achieve the best outcome for their child. They need to be able to play multiple games at once, across the education, government, medical and community sectors, resulting in multiple alliances and multiple threats.

In between dealing with the school and IEPs, dealing with funding and the NDIS, dealing with specialists and therapists and dealing with going about in the general community, I know I’m exhausted at the end of each and every day. But I know I need to keep on top of it all in order to continue to outplay the system and give my children the help and support they need.


Parents need to develop physical, emotional and mental endurance to keep in the game. There is no point being able to outwit and outplay others if you cannot outlast them as well. Special needs parents need to be resilient and persistent – they cannot take no for an answer if that means their child is disadvantaged. They will fight for their child and continue to push their case, even in the face of resistance.

Special needs parents need to cultivate patience, resilience and a distinct sense of humour to outlast everything they face. They need to be able to find the positives in any situation and will often develop a dark sense of humour as a result.

For instance, my husband and I will sometimes see the humour in our son’s vision impairment, particularly if it means he remains oblivious to sensory triggers nearby like balloons. The irony of one diagnosis “helping” out with another does amuse us at times – I guess you would need to be there to fully appreciate that!

Special needs parents need to be able to outlast the needs of their kids, the demands of their families, the strain of school, the pull of specialists, the expectations of therapists and the ignorance of the general population. It’s a tough gig and I know I struggle to keep it all together in order to keep playing the gane.

Do you agree that special needs parenting is a lot like Survivor? Share your examples of outwitting, outplaying and outlasting the “competition”!

Linking up with Kylie for #IBOT.

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35 Responses

  1. Seana says:

    We need to Outlast in that we need to live forever. My son is 19 and I hope he might be more truly independent by the time he is 30 or 40… but could he ever fill in a tax form?? Or any form? Oh panic… it’s certainly a very long haul for us special needs parents and a sense of humour is absoltuely essential.
    Seana recently posted..Improving Our Children’s Behaviour – And Our Own – With ParentWorks

    • Kirsty says:

      Yes, I purposefully didn’t point that part of the “outlast” bit out – it can be unsettling for many. This is the reason bought a house with extra land as we foresee building a granny flat in the future and somehow working out a way to live forever. My son keeps talking about building a time machine – maybe he will somehow achieve that down the track!

  2. Emily says:

    Outlast sounds DRAINING. It all sounds draining, but super levels of patience? Not my strong point. Thanks (as ever) for the insight. x #teamIBOT
    Emily recently posted..Strobe (National Stroke Week 12-18 September 2016)

    • Kirsty says:

      Outlast is draining, on all fronts. But you keep going for your kids – you even find wells of patience you never knew you possessed when it comes to them!

  3. Maxabella says:

    I can’t imagine playing Survivor each and every day. As always, I bow to you and all parents who are raising these special kids. x

  4. I was thinking about you and N the other day when I saw the photos of getting the family to Sydney for the Comic thingy…I know, from what you have said before, just how challenging it can be to merely plan to make a change to routine. I am glad that the two of you are a solid team with a sense of humour because it would be exhausting to be do all of this alone. More power to you. This post needs to be shared very widely with the community!

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks D. Saturday was a challenge in many ways but I consider the fact we ended up getting there at all, and that we were able to stay for three hours, a win!

  5. I don’t know how you do it. The outlast worries me for all parents. Reading Seana’s comment below breaks my heart but I can understand how you would so badly want to Outlast in this way.

    • Kirsty says:

      All we can do is try to prepare our kids as best we can for an independent life (well, as independent as possible) and hope we put in place enough contingenciesfor the inevitable x

  6. I love the comparison between the 2 but it seems to be pretty true. I have a child with epilepsy and a few learning issues and I always feel like I am on survivor

  7. Kerri Weaver says:

    Thankyou for sharing the honesty. I would love to put this link on my facebook page if that’s okay with you. I will wait for your response before I do. Lots of the families I’ve worked with over the years would very much relate to this.

    • Kirsty says:

      Hi Kerri, you can link to anything I’ve written here as I’ve written it for other parents and carers. I do hope it can help others too – thanks so much!

  8. Sonya says:

    Such a great article. I think the parents of special needs children would win the game of survivor hands down. Your are all legends and have such admiration for you all. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Sonya. Despite all the amazing Survivor qualities I possess, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it for real – the lack of food and lack of internet would be enough to send me home straight up!

  9. The emotional endurance is a must, isn’t it? It can all be so draining and I guess unlike survivor, you also need support as a special needs parents from friends, family and the system! Like the analogy you’ve made 🙂
    Sanch @ Sanch Writes recently posted..Here and Now

  10. Rachel says:

    Such a great encouragement. I love sharing your posts with my readers who must feel like they’re the only ones experiencing this. Thanks for giving us all a glimpse into the world of raising kids who need a little more care, but are just as valuable.

  11. What’s brilliant analogy absolutely spot on I am constantly trying to outwit and outplay autism. It can be exhausting though and I’m not sure I’m outlasting… #SpectrumSunday
    An imperfect mum (Catie) recently posted..Bloggers beating cancer: When you knocked on my door….

    • Kirsty says:

      Outlasting is the hard one, isn’t it? But we’ll do it because our children need us to – we just need to know when we need support and where we can go to access it. Good luck with everything Catie x

  12. What beautiful insight. I don’t have an additional needs child but work with some families who do. The comments under outplay rang true for some of them, the is definitely a divide between the ones who know and can work the “system” and the ones who are only starting out and have no idea.

    • Kirsty says:

      There is most certainly a divide between parents who are confident and know how to work the system and those who are not confident and have no clue where to begin. And I fear that divide is unwittingly growing wider with the introduction of the NDIS as parents are thrust into a process where they need to know what to ask for so they can access the supports their child needs. If they are new and have no idea what they can or should ask for, they will not be able to access the full range of supports available…

  13. Oh goodness this is so true! I can spot or anticipate a phrase that is going to upset my boy or one he is going to take to literally from a mile off and I react to them like a ninja, rephrasing before he gets too distressed. Thanks so much for linking with #SpectrumSunday. We hope you come back next time.
    Someone’s Mum (Danielle) recently posted..Photo Memories with Printerpix – 60% Off Discount Code

  14. This is so true. Non SN parents have no idea that SN parenting is 25% parenting, 75% fighting the system

  15. I love this post – so much of it is true! I’ve not seen survivor, looks scary to me! Thanks for linking on #SpectrumSunday, hope to see you again this weekend
    Rainbowsaretoobeautiful recently posted..Guess How Much I Love You – Snuggle Book Giveaway

  16. Sharla says:

    Love this! I can relate to all of it (and I happen to be a die-hard fan of Survivor too). This week, when I’m watching Survivor and I hear them say “outwit, outplay, outlast”, I will think about what you wrote.

  17. Spot on formula, you must be a good strong character to hold the test X #spectrumSunday

  1. January 5, 2017

    […] the years). However, there’s always times when I could do with a little more. I could always do with more patience dealing with my kids, dealing with specialists, dealing with schools, dealing with friends & […]

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