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Grief Reactions to Special Needs Diagnosis

By Ruth Mortimer

Having a child with a special needs diagnosis can be a time of grief for parents. They mourn the loss of a normal healthy child and all that means to them.

Parents learning their child has a disability can signal a grief process commonly experienced as shock, disbelief, perhaps denial, anger, sadness until, hopefully, acceptance. However, once parents have passed through the initial shock, it is not just a matter of acceptance and getting on with their lives. There is a lot of work ahead of them.
Become Well Informed

Whether the child’s condition is physical, neurological, or psychological, or a combination of these, there are many issues of which a parent needs to be informed in order to parent their child in the best possible way. Very early on, parents realise that their lives are going to be very different from what they had envisaged.
Issues to Consider

1. What exactly does the condition mean and involve?
2. What is the long-term outlook?
3. In what ways can the child be helped to manage the disability?
4. What help do you, as a parent need? For example, do you need help with caring for the child; do you need respite care; do you need special facilities installed in your home, and so forth.
5. Will the child require special education?
6. How will caring for your child affect your career, promotion opportunities, and other career planning?
7. Do you have sufficient support from partners, families, friends, and health professionals to get you through the difficult times?
8. Think about the siblings – how can you help them?

These are just some of the points that come to mind when faced with parenting a child with special needs. The situation can be daunting for parents.
What You Can Do

If you are feeling overwhelmed, and depressed about your situation, think about the following ideas:

1. Find someone to talk things over with, such as a trained counselor, or someone you trust and who understands your situation.
2. Keep well informed – read what you can about your child’s condition.
3. You may be entitled to respite care, home help, or financial assistance.
4. Make sure you look after yourself. Take time out to pursue a hobby, a sport, catch up with friends, take a long walk.
5. Treat yourself occasionally – a glossy magazine, crisp grapes and that special cheese, a movie.
6. If you have a partner, allow each other special time for individual activities.
7. Make time for your partner and really nurture your relationship. It needs to be strong to sustain you both.
8. Get regular exercise, adequate rest, and have a nutritious diet.
9. Express your feelings. It is very healthy to let out that resentment, disappointment, and anger from time to time. Have a good cry, then you’ll feel better able to move on with what needs to be done.
10. Never hesitate to ask for help.

There is a Positive Side

Take time to reflect on the positive side of parenting your special child. Write down those great moments – the funny times, the first times. Hold on to these memories and they will help you through the rough patches. There is much to be learned from parenting a special needs child, and remember you are doing a particularly special job.

©2008 Ruth Mortimer. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Ruth Mortimer is from Palmerston North, New Zealand. She is a mother of two sons, the younger of whom is autistic. Owing to the challenges of raising a child with special needs, she decided to do freelance writing from home. She has a doctorate in psychology, along with an endorsement in clinical psychology. She has carried out qualitative research on women’s health, retirement, and sexual abuse. She enjoys reading, walking, making glass mosaic pieces, chess and a bit of gardening when there is time.