Parents with children with special needs can find themselves overwhelmed as they do their best to care for their children. It’s easy for them to get caught up doing many “good” tasks throughout the day to ensure their child’s growth. As a parent coach, Sharoya Ham aims to give parents the permission to let go of some of those “I-need-to-do” tasks to focus on self-care and to recapture the joy of parenting. Her motto for parents is: Parenting is a Gift; Not a To-Do List!

Today Sharoya talks about the three C’s of parenting a child with profound needs: Connection, Community, & Coaching.


Sharoya is a veteran teacher and former stay-at-home mom of 17 years, who’s now the Founder of Embrace Behavior Change, a parent coaching practice aimed at helping parents transform from a state of stress and overwhelm to a place of confidence and peace in their parenting. She has a special place in her heart for special needs families.


Connect with Sharoya

Transcribed by Kanako Suwa

[ Introduction music plays ]

Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour, where you get 1 hour of learning in less than thirty minutes.

Lori: Hey everyone. Today, I speak with Sharoya Ham and she is a coach. So she actually coaches parents of children with special needs and um helps them build confidence and focus on their own self care to recapture the joy of parenting, which as those of us know who have kids with special needs, it can be, can be a hard road and sometimes we don’t take care of ourselves. So Sharoya is a veteran teacher and former stay-at home mum, who’s now the founder of Embrace Behaviour Change, which is a parent coaching practice aimed at helping parents transform from a state of stress and overwhelm to a place of confidence and peace in their parenting. She has a real special place in her heart for special needs families. And now, on to the show. Hi Sharoya and welcome to the podcast! 

Sharoya: Hi Lori, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation.  

Lori: Well, and where are you coming to us from today? 

Sharoya: I live in Pretoria, South Africa.

Lori: mmm beautiful. Quite jealous.

Sharoya: it is, it is beautiful.

Lori: *laughs* what, what wild animals have you seen recently?

Sharoya: Well, Lori, I have lived in Africa for 15 years and 6 countries, *laughs*, and so I don’t wanna see any more animals!

Lori: *laughs* 

Sharoya: I say that, but every time we go somewhere, actually, you just can’t be, cannot not be in awe, right, of an animal in nature. But we went to the zoo, actually yesterday, my son wanted to go to the zoo so um it was a beautiful white lion, and he came home and said “which was your favourite animal to see”, he asked my husband and I, and I thought it was a great question for an 18 year old. 

Lori: awww sweet! Sweet. So, Sharoya, you are a parent coach. Uhhh

Sharoya: I am. 

Lori: So what prompted you to become a parent coach? Because I also know that you were a teacher, um, a stay at home mum, you’ve, you’ve kinda done the gamut so what was your impetus in this career switch? 

Sharoya: Great, question, I tell everybody, who drinks a bane of parent coach, who in the world will even call themselves a parent expert, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have this type of career. I had big dreams of being a motivational speaker after spending many years as a, uh, elementary, no not, secondary high school principal, that’s what I really wanted to do. And so I ended up, you know, during my time of being home, I was always tutoring kids and helping children particularly who were struggling in math, and then, my son had a big moment of challenge in the 7th grade and then he was diagnosed with ADHD. So I home-schooled him for a little while. And during that time, a parent asked me would I work with her son who had, who was on, the spectrum, um, of autism, and so I said sure. And then, you know when she would drop him off, I would just realise how overwhelmed she was. And I would share with her some techniques that she could actually use to kinda make him more independent, and when I would ask her, follow up, “have you tried this?”, she said no and I just thought… why would she not try? It would actually give her ease, you know, she wouldn’t have to do so much, because this was um, I remember, um, he used an alarm clock in, while I was teaching him very well. So I told her, “you don’t have to wake him up, just give him the plan, let him start use the alarm clock.” So this, in my opinion, would make her, you know, a little bit more relaxed in the morning because he would be more responsible. But what I realised, she didn’t even have the capacity to just take moments out and teach him, not because she didn’t want to, but it was because she was exhausted. 

Lori: *laughts* yep, I get it. 

Sharoya: All of it. The whole thing going through her head, and I’ll tell you the truth, I was judging her at first. 

Lori: sure, sure. 

Sharoya: And when I realised that she wasn’t just ignoring what I was saying, she, she thought it was a good idea but she, like I said, just couldn’t find the time to slow down because she had all of these things on her plate. And when I realised that, that’s when the two of us began to develop a relationship, and I just said, “here, let me help you. These things, he doesn’t really need, yes, they’re good things to do for him but the best thing you can do for him is to be emotionally vibrant. This exhaustion, it really works against you and all that you’re trying to do.” So we sit, we sat down and we looked at her list and yeah, this is a good idea, this is a great idea, but let’s go for the best and let all of those, I should do this, I should do that, let that go. And um, when I saw how she changed, which then made him change, and when the husband came, it was just a glow on the family and that’s when I said, hey, I can help a student and that’s fine, but if they go home to a tired parent who doesn’t want to work with the on math and just, you know, will say things they don’t mean because they’re frustrated, 

Lori: mmhmm.

Sharoya: um, you know, if I can help parents, it helps the whole family. So that’s my story.

Lori: Wow, well, beautiful. And I’m sure this parent and many others who have appreciated just that, side-by-side coaching that you give. Uh, so you, you mentioned autism spectrum, what other uh, disabilities or special needs have you worked with? 

Sharoya: well, you know, it’s the gamut. Because I don’t really work with the children, so what I realised is many of my parents is in this stage of they haven’t had a diagnosis, their child is not diagnosed, and what I like to say is, I take them on that journey from just disappointment, um, unbelief, confusion, to a place of calm, of hope, and then a plan to move forward to go and find the professionals you need to start with that assessment because you know, the resistance often is, “I don’t want my child to be labeled.” 

Lori: right. 

Sharoya: So I, I, I spend most of my time working with families who, whose children have not, do not have a diagnosis but it could run the gamut. It could just be a child just behaviour, you know, the the parent just struggled to set up boundaries, um, and then a lot of what I found is that when a child is diagnosed, they have help in school, or their parents are taking them to help, professional help outside of school, but who is helping the parents? So that, that is what I do, to help parents go “let me see, um, your, um, intervention plan. Now, let’s figure out how you can do this with all of your responsibility and all of your constraints, financial, whatever it is”. Marital, we dig deep into whatever the parents’ issue is. 

Lori: hmm, interesting. So how do you help these parents go from completely overwhelmed to a place of confidence and calm and a vision forward? 

Sharoya: Well, you know, it is a process. Um, and I’ve experienced it with my son, when I heard that diagnosis of ADHD, my ego was hurt, but then also, if you have a parent who has a child with profound needs, it’s not just your ego. It’s your dream, are just shattered. And parents just need a moment, I recognise, in fact, many moments, over time to just feel that pain and um, what I want to share today is just how parents can find a purpose. It’s not a punishment when your child has a special needs, no matter how severe it is. I try to encourage my parents, it is not a punishment, there is a purpose. 

Now, it’s not always easy to find that purpose, so today I just want to share, there are 3 things that I want to encourage parents to think about, and that’s connection, community, and coaching. It doesn’t have to be all three, but in one of those, you can find purpose in all of the um, uncertainty of, um, of this life and managing your child’s needs. So the first thing is about connection. We all have this, just deeply innate desire for connection. And so what I want to share with our listeners today is that no matter how limited your child’s abilities are, your child has a deep desire to connect with you, to your family, even to your extended family, and they can also enjoy the connection in your circle of engagements. So, your friends, stores, whatever you may need to go. They need connection. And so I wanna share a story with the listeners today, um, that I think will help you understand this need for connection. Is that okay, can I share, Lori? 

Lori: Yes, please do! Love stories. 

Sharoya: okay, so I want everyone listening to close your eyes and visualise this story, so here we go. Joe has a son named Charlie who has severe disabilities. Joe runs around all day diligently, caring for Charlie, lifting him in and out of cars, to see the best doctors and therapist. He comes home and gives Charlie medication on a schedule, then, he goes to work. He returns home, only to do more chores. And when he finally makes it home to sleep, he must sleep with one ear open ready to jump up at night to take care of Charlie’s needs. I want you now to open up your eyes and just, think about, tell me what you think about Joe. So, Lori, since you’re here, tell me what you think about Joe. 

Lori: *laughs*, um, well, it’s not too hard for me to put myself in Joe’s shoes, um, that is my life. Um, you know, everything you said resonated with the, um, running to the different doctor’s appointments to um, ensuring my child has his medications on time, that fear of missing a dose and what that means for his physiological and psychological well-being, um, all the way to the sleep where you know, for he, he doesn’t sleep, really, and so uh, Joe, is exhausted as you mentioned earlier about his um, friend, and Joe has quite a bit of anxiety, to ensure that his son is getting the very very best he can, um, and Joe is constantly worried, I don’t know if he has any other children, but um, working to ensure that all of his children are okay, and that his own relationship with his spouse is on point as well. So um, it can be quite overwhelming, um, and also, that stress of “am I doing enough?” and um, “am I doing enough?” and “is my child happy?” and how can I not just be a teacher or a helper to my son but a parent, so. I know that’s probably more than you asked for, but yeah *laughs* 

Sharoya: What I love about what you just said, all of that, the listeners are saying, me too. Me too. And that’s the awesomeness about what I’m going to say about community. In just a moment. But I wanted to bring home this point about connection first. And so we’ve talked about Joe. But what about Charlie? What can you imagine that Charlie, who is non-verbal, is thinking as he watches his dad go about? And my thought is that Charlie is probably saying “thanks Dad, for all you do for me, but sometimes I get mad because I just want you to look at me”

Lori: hmmm.

Sharoya: He, you, I just want you to sit and look at me, hold my hand, play pop-up game, so this is when I thought about what I’m seeing in parents. The love to, to provide, the love to care, but I want parents to understand the desire for connection supersedes those needs. Yes, they have to be done, but so does the connection. 

Lori: Yep, I see it. 

Sharoya: You see it, Lori? 

Lori: Oh yeah, of course. Our, our, my husband is always is like, you know, playfully punching my son in the arm and people are always like, “you better be careful, Mike, one day he’s gonna punch you right back”, but actually, our son just smiles and laughs because he loves, he loves that, and then, um, my thing with him is, every day that I see him, I say “have I told you today how proud I am of you? How awesome you are?” and he just smiles and lights up. Um, so that’s kind of our “thing” and I just think it’s important. 

Sharoya: It’s so important. And you know, I want to encourage, the last thing I ever want to do for parents is to make them feel like they need to do more. My goal is always try to think about what you can actually take off your plate so you can do something that you enjoy. And so listeners, if you’re not driving, what I’d like for you to do is to just grab a piece of paper. I got three questions to ask you that I hope you will answer after the podcast, and the question number 1 is, I want you to write this down, “when do I feel most connected to my child?” and just answer it. Then question number 2, “how do I want to express to my child that he or she belongs in our family?” Question number 3, “where do I want to take my child to show him or her that he belongs in the community?” whatever, around your friends, if it’s just a grocery store once a month, whatever. Wherever you know someone will say hi, someone will touch him or her, so I want you to just take some time, and I love mindless journaling, because it really gets to the heart, just don’t overthink this, just write. And so, 

Lori: that works! 

Sharoya: Does that work? Does that seem too overwhelming? 

Lori: No, no, not at all. 

Sharoya: good, good, because I’ve listened to many stories of families with children with special needs, and I really wanted to talk today, like I said, to those with profound disabilities. I know the spectrum of special needs is so broad. And sometimes, I listen to talks and I go, oh my gosh, my parents who have parents who don’t talk, who don’t want to talk, who have so many medical challenges, how do they feel listening to this, you know, the thing, this, this podcast or this webinar that’s supposed to encourage them and give them some ideas of what to do, when they’re thinking, my child can’t even do that. 

And so, I want to say to you all today, after speaking to many families, I see the fatigue, the disappointments, the wondering, what did I do wrong, or am I doing enough? And the sadness there is, that there is knowing that there’s no end in sight. That my life is going to be full of it, on constant go, but I want to let you know that the antidote to all of these is emotion, is connection. You need to connect beyond your child, we talked about, I talked about connection first with your child. You need to connect even beyond co-parent, you need a community, that does more than give you suggestions, community that does more than gives you compliments that end up feeling like an insult. 

Lori: *laughs*

Sharoya: you need a community that will embrace you and that will listen to you, and help you figure out something that you’ve been trying to figure out on your own. Does that make sense, Lori? 

Lori: Of course, yes, yes! And your third C is “coaching”. 

Sharoya: And the third C is “Coaching”. Because, back to those questions, you might decide that there’s one thing you want to try, not three, I asked three questions, but in coaching, and in the longevity of behaviour change, rests on small changes. Not “I’m gonna do this every day”, it starts with “I’m going to do this maybe once a week, I’m going to do this once a month”, because if it’s taking your child out and then you know, aren’t able to walk and talk, that, it takes a lot of effort to plan for that so you might say I might do it once every 3 months. Whatever it is, just make one commitment to change. And so, coaching does not have to be professional coaching. 

Coaching, in my opinion, means you have someone to hold you accountable. And so, it could be a family member, that’s fine, but if you decide to use um, you know,professional coaching, that gives you an opportunity to have someone there who will be there on a regular basis that will share with you some strategies and give you the encouragement that you need. But not only that, give you the skills, um, and many of you, you have so many skills. But then it’s just trying to figure out which skill to use at which time. So I, I really encourage families to reach out, of course, you can reach out to groups, Facebook groups, but it doesn’t have to even be that big of a chore, you can reach out to a neighbour, and so, I’m going to pause there and Lori, you tell me, um, your thoughts, or if you have any additional questions, and I’ll go from there. 

Lori: no, yeah, thank you! Um, I, we have been lucky in our overseas lives because you know, when you move to a new school, you instantly have a community of, of teachers that you’ve come in with or the people you live in the same housing area with, and so you have that community of support already kinda built in, um, so we’ve been really lucky with that. And our move home has kinda been an eye-opener, because you don’t run into that instant community, you have to seek community. Um, and so, you just, you did get me thinking on that, that we need to start kind of, putting ourselves out there a little bit more, *laughs*, now that we’re here in stateside, so I think that that’s so important. And then just having someone to chat with about it that is not your partner, um, is essential. Because all of us are going through our own anxieties and stress as we’re managing the different situations that arise so you can’t keep bouncing it off your partner or you’re gonna really struggle. 

Sharoya: really struggle. So Lori, in closing, I just want to share three things for, for parents to consider, to get some relief, and again, I only want parents to try just one thing, that comes to mind after I mention these three things. Number 1, it takes courage and vulnerability to ask for help, and asking for help or being vulnerable is how you can build community without going out, looking for groups, spending time on Facebook, so here’s the three things that I would just say to parents, consider this. When someone ask you, “how you doing?”, let them know. YOu can simply say “thank you for asking, today is a tough day for me, I have a special needs child and I keep feeling like I’m just tired all the time”, you can leave it just like that. People won’t know what to say, *laughs* but you might come across someone who does give you a word that makes you feel good. 

The next thing is, and my friend shared this with me the other day, she had a child, well, he passed away, but he had cerebral palsy, and I was able to interview her the other day and she just shared so much with me, and one of the things she said is she would write chronicles to her family, she would email, she was like “I didn’t care if they wanted it or not!” but in her emails, she would share updates of different things, not just about her son but about something that she was doing for herself, how she connected with her son, you know, during the week or during the month, ask for book recommendations and, or, movie recommendations, so she used this to communicate outside of her home, even when she had to spend so much time at home. And so what happened? There were people who responded to her and showed interest in her, not just her son. 

And then, the last thing is, I want you to consider um, playing a game, which I call “let’s see if they say no”, so I want you to think of a simple task, something you can ask a friend or a neighbour, a stranger to do. Like, call you every week for 15 minutes just so you can talk to somebody. Um, it may be, come over to the house and just give me 15 minutes to be on my own. So whatever it is that you decide, then I want you to think, how many people do you predict, try to predict, how many people do you have to ask before you get a “yes”. Or how many people do you say, how many people do you think will say “no” to you? And just, the day you have the courage, the day you have the vulnerability, just ask. And then, I want you to come home and see if the prediction you made, was it accurate? Chances are, you might have overestimated how many people will say no. *laughs* 

Lori: I think you’re right, I think you’re right. I learnt that lesson many many years ago. If I need help, I ask, and people always come through. Most people want to help, they just don’t know how. 

Sharoya: And so, that’s why it’s so important to ask and start with a little ask. So I hope this encourages somebody, particularly maybe some parents who are just starting their journey with a child with special needs, there is, this is not a punishment, there is a purpose. 

Lori: Yep, there is a purpose. Well, I think that’s a great way to end it then. There is a purpose.

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