Coping with the Initial Shock of a Special Needs Diagnosis

Jan 6, 2022

The initial shock of learning that your child has a special needs diagnosis can be very debilitating. Many parents feel overwhelmed by the challenges and obstacles that their children will face in the upcoming years. Many suffer from depression and anxiety. Understanding that there is nothing you can do to change the diagnosis and that you are not alone in your experiences helps you through your healing process. There is nothing you can do to change your child's diagnosis and it is not your fault.

You can find comfort in knowing that others have gone down this road. In speaking to special needs parents about how they dealt with the initial shock of a special needs diagnosis, I was able to leave the conversations with these five (5) takeaways. If you are struggling with accepting your child’s diagnosis, I hope at least one of these tips helps you get through the day.

Embrace the feeling: No one is immune to feelings of disappointment, hurt, anger and resentment. Do not be tough on yourself for having these feelings - it is okay not to be okay. It is important that you do not try to suppress your feelings and act like you are not hurt or disappointed. Whatever you are feeling, it is fully acceptable to sit with your emotions. Cry if you must. Oftentimes, when we refuse to feel our emotions, the consequences creep up on us in unexpected ways. One of the misconceptions I have heard from parents is that if they are angry and upset about the special needs diagnosis, then they must not love their child. Please understand, it's okay to be angry and upset. It's a parent's job to protect their child...and no one can do that better than a parent who is truly fighting for their child. Strong negative emotions are natural and normal in response to having a child with a disability.

Knowledge is power: As cliche as it may sound, knowledge is power. Do your research and gain as much insight and information as you possibly can about your child’s diagnosis. Educating yourself empowers you to become the advocate your child needs. Educate yourself on the disability, what therapies, treatments, drugs, diets, among others, have been tried to treat the condition and/or improve the disability. Research what has worked well and what hasn't worked at all or has had little effect. Are there any problems that might occur if treatment is changed or discontinued? The more you know about your child’s disability, the more likely you will be able to help him reach his maximum potential.

Join a Special Needs Community: Being a special needs parent can be isolating and uncertain. Knowing that others are walking the same path as you really make the journey a little more bearable. Trying to do everything by yourself is not only draining but also exhausting because it's not realistic. This community holds your hands through the inevitable ups and downs of being a special needs parent. Here are some special needs parents and communities you can follow @specialmomclub @melanin__curls @gracefulexpression.slp @fidgets.and.fries @nicolegottesmann @findingcoopersvoice @eifcenter

Become "unobsessed" with your Child's Disability: It can be daunting to realize that your child has a special needs diagnosis. You may have a lot of emotions and questions. One of the common mistakes that parents make is to become "obsessed" with their child’s disability. Trying to understand your child’s disability is important, but you should also try to understand the whole person. Focus on your child as a unique person who has challenges and strengths that come from their individual personality. Your child is not his or her disability. Your job as a parent, in part, is to help your child thrive, grow, and become the best person that he or she can be.

Accept that you might never fully accept the diagnosis - You will always go through a tug of war between accepting your child’s diagnosis and feeling angry. This is a natural state of being.  This does not make you an inadequate parent. It's important to remember that you will never be fully okay with your child's diagnosis. Accepting a diagnosis can bring peace of mind and help you focus on your child's needs, but there will always be a tug-of-war between acceptance and feeling angry about it. It's okay to have a range of emotions about your child's diagnosis and to express those feelings to others who understand. This does not mean that you are not an adequate parent or that your child will grow up feeling unloved. It means that the diagnosis is no longer the only thing at the forefront of your mind. You are able to focus on the positives in your child's life and see beyond the diagnosis to what lies ahead for him or her."

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