So, this is it. You have been labeled as a special needs parent. Raising a child with developmental delays is always different, but it is not the end of the world. Yes, technicality may label your child as disabled, but the truth is, your child is differently-abled. Although people will feel the need to express how sorry they feel for you, it’s okay to feel okay.
It’s okay to love your child the same way you always have. After all, you have only labeled symptoms that were already there. But where do you go from here? Fear not, for you needn’t feel guilty any longer. From one special needs parent to another, these are the stages of grief and the path to a sigh of relief.
Stage One: Shock
How is this possible? Your child’s life began like any other. In many cases, a normal pregnancy led to a completely normal birth. Why, then, does your child have special needs? You may think there must be a mistake. Maybe, you sought out a second opinion – and a third or a fourth.
Every conclusion was the same: Your beautiful, perfect child has “special needs.” Acceptance is the solution to this stage of grief. Many disabilities and delays are common and getting a neurotypical child or a child with special needs can be simple luck of the draw. Accept this fact so you can move on.
Stage Two: Blame
It is a natural human instinct to look for a cause where there is an effect. So it is no surprise that finding out a child is different from the norm causes a special needs parent to place blame. Sadly, often that blame is placed on themselves. Mother’s may wonder if they ate right during their pregnancy. Would cauliflower, rather than cupcakes, have led to a neurotypical child?
Dad might wonder if he put too much stress and responsibility on his partner during her pregnancy at a detriment to the child. Did he let her sleep enough? But blame is a pointless stage because, in many cases, the source of disability is unknown. Yes, some disorders are genetic, but genetic testing can be expensive and will not change your reality. Accept that blaming yourself or your partner is futile.
Stage Three: Guilt
You may have felt guilty in stage two, but nothing compares to the guilt of stage three. This is the moment that you realize that you have been mourning the loss of a child you never had while depreciating the value of the child you love. You may feel like you have betrayed your child or hurt them in the process.
But, most often, any concerns were expressed behind closed doors. You did not harm your child by worrying about their future, about their ability to thrive, survive and even live independently. It happens to the best of people. Life happens without warning. You are not a bad person, but you are human. Accept your humanity and move on to the final stage of acceptance for a special needs parent.
Stage Four: Acceptance
You have had to accept a lot of information in a short amount of time. You accept that a series of random events may have led to you becoming a special needs parent. You have accepted that you may never know who or what to blame for your situation. You have accepted that you are human and will make mistakes during this new journey.
It’s fitting, then, that the final stage after finding out you are a special needs parent is acceptance. This acceptance begins with accepting your reality and ends with the acceptance of your child. There may be long, difficult nights. You accept this because this child is your child.
This is still the child you anxiously awaited to arrive. This is the child you rocked to sleep at night. This is a child who looks to you to learn from you. Those who don’t understand your situation may express feeling sorry for you or your child: accept it. They know not what they do.
You can try to educate others about your situation, but only experience breeds true understanding. When others treat your child as a burden that you are doomed to endure, accept your child. Do not let the ignorance of strangers obscure the love you have for your child.
It’s Okay to Feel Okay About Being a Special Needs Parent
A diagnosis is not a disadvantage – it is an advantage. A diagnosis does not change your child but labels the symptoms they have so that treatment options become more readily available to you. This is a victory in parenting. This is a reason to celebrate. So breathe a sigh of relief because you have started on the path that will ensure your child has the best possible opportunity for a higher quality of life.
Remember, you are your child’s advocate. Utilize any resources you have to provide them with a loving home and steady treatment plan. And don’t feel like you’re asking for too much. After all, they still deserve the best. You are your child’s voice. That voice does not need to say “sorry.” You don’t need to feel ashamed. It’s okay to feel okay.