The fear of every parent is that something will be wrong with their child. Being told that their son or daughter has a disability can trigger the same emotions as the death of a loved one. In fact, most parents, upon learning of the disability, go through the full stages of grief: disbelief/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
It is only when they reach acceptance of the disability and have fully worked through their own feelings of anger, guilt, and shame, that parents can turn their focus to helping their child. Parents need to reach a place where they can work to understand their own child’s disability and how that will affect the child’s development, learning, and future life.
Medical and educational professionals can help parents through this difficult time. They have specialized training and can guide parents through the process. They have resources and information that will be crucial in parents making informed decisions about their child’s treatment and development.
Here are a few tips for parents who are trying to cope with a child’s disability
1. Accept that the emotions you are experiencing are natural. Whether you choose to seek professional counseling to help you through the grieving process, acknowledging that you have an emotional reaction is the first step in dealing with that reaction.
2. Remember that you determine the amount of communication and involvement you want to have. This applies to the medical discussions about your child as well as interactions with educators. While each will have a certain amount of information that they need to share with you, it is up to you how much detail you can absorb in one sitting and how often you can handle new information.
3. You are entitled to compassion and honesty from the professionals in your child’s life. Special education teachers and counselors should respect not only your emotions, but your place in your child’s life. They should be honest about their own shortcoming in knowledge or experience. They should also be cognizant of potential situations that are emotionally draining for you.
4. You have resources beyond the hospital and/or school. There are numerous non-profit organizations that can provide you with background materials and research to help you understand your child’s disability. There are also parent and family support groups and networks that give you the chance to talk to others who are in the same boat as you. The latter in particular can be an invaluable resource for helping you cope with your child’s disability.