Gain an understanding of your child and the stresses your family may face.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
If there’s anything that’ll take the breath right out of your lungs, it’s hearing that you’re carrying a special needs child. Overwhelmed may feel like an understatement right now, but this is not the end of the world. Take a deep breath. You may think you can’t do this, but I promise you, you can.
What to Expect Emotionally
You will cry – allow it
No one anticipates getting a diagnosis like this and when it does happen, it can seem surreal. When it finally sinks in, no matter how wanted this child was, you will experience a range of overwhelming emotions: disappointment, guilt, love, blame, fear, anger, denial, hope, optimism, pessimism and anxiety are but a few of the wide, conflicting emotions that’ll come up. Allow yourself to be overwhelmed, it would be strange if you weren’t.
Give yourself time to simply sit, and watch the
torrent wash through you, without judging yourself for
having this deeply human reaction.
Sometimes, it may feel like something or someone needs to take the blame; often it’ll be you. Your thoughts may spiral with questions such as: was it something you ate? Something you exposed yourself to? Something in your genes? Something you did or didn’t do? Stop. This happens. Randomly. Sometimes for no reason at all. With diagnoses like Down Syndrome, autism or Trisomy 18, even the experts can’t tell what causes them. For many things, there are genetic factors that increase the risk and there are environmental factors, but if you keep going down this line of thinking, you’ll drive yourself crazy and right now, the biggest gift you can give yourself, your family and your child is to conserve your energy and approach this with the healthiest state of mind you can summon.
You will google obsessively
Once you hear your diagnosis, Google will become your best friend. While a certain amount of research is healthy, know that reality can be much kinder than what you find on the internet. My advice? Find out what you need to but be mindful about pulling yourself back from the urge to know – and control – every detail of the condition.
You will love him more fiercely than you’ve ever loved anything in your life
At the very beginning, if you feel disconnected from the child you are holding, know that this is not unusual. While life with a special needs child can be deeply challenging, parents will tell you that through it all, there’s a special kind of love that will develop – profoundly compassionate, fiercely protective, and surprisingly celebratory. It will feel like you were meant to have exactly the child you have, “flaws” and all. And the love you carry will change you at your core.
What to Expect from Your Child
There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to what to expect behaviourally from a special needs child.
Your child may fall anywhere on the mild, moderate or
severe spectrum and even then, there are significant and unique
behavioural differences between children who are on
the same end of the spectrum.
The bad news? Parenting any child is exhausting but parenting a special needs child takes this to a new level. The reality is that your life will likely take a radical turn because your child will need you in very special, sometimes consuming ways. What you can do to make the transition easier is to give yourself time to warm up to the fact. You don’t have to change your life all at once – make small changes a step at a time. Importantly, forgive yourself when you think you fall short; you are not superhuman and taking care of your needs is just as – or more – important. Also, remember that time makes getting used to anything easier.
The good news? While some children will exhibit aggression, extreme temper tantrums, learning disabilities and behave oddly, they won’t do it all the time. What they will do, is show their love in their unique, sometimes non-traditional ways. Over time, you will learn to recognise it in the form it takes. Also, you may struggle at first with people who do not understand your child, or what it’s like to be the parent of one, but soon, you will stop caring – they haven’t walked a step in your shoes. For as many people you meet who don’t understand, there are just as many friendly faces who will show true kindness and go out of their way to help.
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