Finding out that your child has a disability can be an overwhelming experience. While there is no right or wrong way to feel, there is also no guide to the emotions you experience after hearing the news. Personally, I experienced a whole roller coaster ride of emotions and ended up feeling very lost in the early days of my daughter’s diagnosis. So I know it’s difficult … but I also know that with the right tools you can and will learn how to manage your emotions after your child is diagnosed with a disability.
How a disability diagnosis affects parents emotionally
Whether it’s an autism spectrum disorder or cerebral palsy, a disability diagnosis affects the entire family. However, parents often feel it the most. In fact, most of us experience a wide variety of emotions, including shock, fear, sadness, and even shame. Other parents are so shocked that they initially feel disbelief and numbness about the situation until reality finally sets in.
All of these feelings (or others) are more than understandable – you’ve just received a lot of information!
The truth is that there is no right or wrong way to feel when your child is diagnosed. While you can try to suppress and ignore your feelings, you really shouldn’t. Indeed, you need to control and process these emotions so that you can help your child and find ways to thrive in your family’s new normal.
Image by Ambermb from Pixabay
How to manage negative emotions after diagnosis
The early stages of a disability diagnosis can be so difficult to manage. From personal experience, not only do you manage appointments with new specialists and constantly read everything you can find about your child’s diagnosis, but you also manage a wide variety of emotions, many of which can feel quite uncomfortable.
Because you juggle so much, it’s hard to know what to do with these feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and envy. However, according to the Australian Raising Children Network, one of the best things parents can do during this time of diagnosis is to take care of yourself. Since increased stress can cause adults to neglect themselves, it is important that you take care of your physical and emotional needs during this time.
For starters, you need to make sure that you are eating, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep. You also need to learn how to accept your feelings and how to give yourself the time and space to fully experience them. While your current feelings won’t last forever, for now, the best thing to do is meet where you are and be gentle with yourself no matter what you are feeling.
When ready, you can open up with loved ones you trust to deal with anything you feel. These people can support you and be willing to listen without judgment, and sometimes the best medicine for overwhelming emotions is to have a moment to vent.
Focus on your child, not the diagnosis
If you’re like most parents, you might be quickly consumed by the details of your child’s diagnosis after you get the news. You may read about the condition, study diagnostic measures, and even compare your child to other children with the same condition.
However, UK-based disability rights group Scope says it is far more beneficial for parents to focus on their child, not the diagnostic label. After all, every child is different, even two children with the same diagnosis. So if you’re trapped in comparison, you may feel even worse than before.
Instead, just hang out with your child and do normal, everyday things. Depending on the condition of your child and the severity, their life can be very different from that of their non-disabled peers. Hence, it is important to enjoy moments of normalcy when you can, even if it is as simple as playing in the park or playing with your favorite toys.
And when your child is making progress or reaching a new milestone, celebrate! Just because your child has a unique diagnosis doesn’t mean they still don’t deserve to celebrate small achievements.
Photo by Danny Nee on Unsplash
Where can I get help?
Even the best prepared parents may have problems diagnosing their child’s disability. Indeed it is expected. However, if you feel like it’s too much to deal with at first, don’t panic. There are many places you can seek help if you need it.
First and foremost, you can contact your child’s school advisor. If your child is not of school age or if you feel uncomfortable contacting the school counselor, you can ask your child’s diagnosing doctor if their facility has social workers or if they have recommended therapists to help the parents early on should see stages of diagnosis.
Regardless of how you find them, these trained experts can help you process difficult emotions and give you the support you need to work through the next steps. In fact, many school counselors and medical social workers are specially trained to help families deal with such situations, and they can give you an ear and knowledgeable brain to help you.
Many parents find support groups or state-specific organizations particularly helpful in the early days. These groups can help you connect with other parents who were in your shoes, which means you can seek advice and support from people who literally know what you are going through.
Finally, it may be worth taking a look at your community’s early intervention services to see what support your family may qualify for. These organizations often provide you with the tools you need to help your child. However, they may have connections that can also help you deal with any problems.
Although a disability diagnosis can evoke a lot of emotions in parents, it can almost never be dealt with. Just try to take things one day at a time and be patient with yourself. As someone who has been there, I can promise you that you will get through this and your child will thrive.
Sources: Raising Children Network, Scope, CDC
READ MORE: Help Your Autistic Teen Become Independent
Mothers want to know how this racist doll could have been released
About the author
(220 articles published)
Megan Glosson is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. She enjoys writing on a variety of topics including parenting, mental health, and life. More work on Unwritten, The Mighty, Focused on Kids, Food Delivery Guru and TheThings.com can be found here.
More from Megan Glosson