Finding out: Learning your child has a developmental delay or a disability
Learn the terminology
When you are introduced to new terminology, you should not be hesitant to ask what it means. Whenever someone uses a word that you don’t understand, stop the conversation for a minute and ask the person to explain the word.
Some parents seek virtually “tons” of information; others are not so persistent. The important thing is that you request accurate information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because asking questions will be your first step in beginning to understand more about your child.
Learning how to formulate questions is an art that will make life a lot easier for you in the future. A good method is to write down your questions before entering appointments or meetings, and to write down further questions as you think of them during the meeting. Get written copies of all documentation from physicians, teachers, and therapists regarding your child.
It is a good idea to buy a three-ring notebook in which to save all information that is given to you. In the future, there will be many uses for information that you have recorded and filed; keep it in a safe place. Again, remember always to ask for copies of evaluations, diagnostic reports, and progress reports. If you are not a naturally organized person, just get a box and throw all the paperwork in it. Then when you really need it, it will be there.
Do not be intimidated
Many parents feel inadequate in the presence of people from the medical or educational professions because of their credentials and, sometimes, because of their professional manner. Do not be intimidated by the educational backgrounds of these and other personnel who may be involved in treating or helping your child. You do not have to apologize for wanting to know what is occurring. Do not be concerned that you are being a bother or are asking too many questions. Remember, this is your child, and the situation has a profound effect on your life and on your child’s future. Therefore, it is important that you learn as much as you can about your situation.
So many parents, especially dads, repress their emotions because they believe it to be a sign of weakness to let people know how they are feeling. The strongest fathers of children with disabilities whom I know are not afraid to show their emotions. They understand that revealing feelings does not diminish one’s strength.
Learn to deal with natural feelings of bitterness and anger
Feelings of bitterness and anger are inevitable when you realize that you must revise the hopes and dreams you originally had for your child. It is very valuable to recognize your anger and to learn to let go of it. You may need outside help to do this. It may not feel like it, but life will get better and the day will come when you will feel positive again. By acknowledging and working through your negative feelings, you will be better equipped to meet new challenges, and bitterness and anger will no longer drain your energies and initiative.
Maintain a positive outlook
A positive attitude will be one of your genuinely valuable tools for dealing with problems. There is, truly, always a positive side to whatever is occurring. For example, when my child was found to have a disability, one of the other things pointed out to me was that she was a very healthy child. She still is. The fact that she has had no physical impairments has been a great blessing over the years; she has been the healthiest child I have ever raised. Focusing on the positives diminishes the negatives and makes life easier to deal with.
Keep in touch with reality
To stay in touch with reality is to accept life the way it is. To stay in touch with reality is also to recognize that there are some things that we can change and other things that we cannot change. The task for all of us is learning which things we can change and then set about doing that.
Time heals many wounds. This does not mean that living with and raising a child who has problems will be easy, but it is fair to say that, as time passes, a great deal can be done to alleviate the problem. Therefore, time does help!
Find programs for your child
Even for those living in isolated areas of the country, assistance is available to help you with whatever problems you are having. NICHCY’s State Organizations Search contacts you with folks who can help you get started in gaining the information and assistance you need. While finding programs for your child with a disability, keep in mind that programs are also available for the rest of your family.
Take care of yourself
In times of stress, each person reacts in his or her own way. A few universal recommendations may help: Get sufficient rest; eat as well as you can; take time for yourself; reach out to others for emotional support.
Self-pity, the experience of pity from others, or pity for your child is actually disabling. Pity is not what is needed. Empathy, which is the ability to feel with another person, is the attitude to be encouraged.
Decide how to deal with others
During this period, you may feel saddened by or angry about the way people are reacting to you or your child. Many people’s reactions to serious problems are caused by a lack of understanding, simply not knowing what to say, or fear of the unknown. Understand that many people don’t know how to behave when they see a child with differences, and they may react inappropriately. Think about and decide how you want to deal with stares or questions. Try not to use too much energy being concerned about people who are not able to respond in ways you might prefer.
My mother once told me, “When a problem arises and you don’t know what to do, then you do whatever it was that you were going to do anyway.” Practicing this habit seems to produce some normalcy and consistency when life becomes hectic.
Remember that this is your child
This person is your child, first and foremost. Your child’s development may be different from that of other children, but this does not make your child less valuable, less human, less important, or in less need of your love and parenting. Love and enjoy your child. The child comes first; the disability comes second. If you can relax and take the positive steps just outlined, one at a time, you will do the best you can, your child will benefit, and you can look forward to the future with hope.
Recognize that you are not alone
The feeling of isolation at the time of diagnosis is almost universal among parents. In this article, there are many recommendations to help you handle feelings of separateness and isolation. It helps to know that these feelings have been experienced by many, many others, that understanding and constructive help are available to you and your child, and that you are not alone.