The process of diagnosing a child with special needs can be a long one. Often the signs don’t appear straight away. Perhaps they are slower at reaching developmental milestones, perhaps they begin regressing after seemingly being on track, and sometimes the news comes during pregnancy. At times parents start suspecting something might be wrong, and at other times parents are alerted by other caregivers. Whatever the case may be, it is devastating to find out that your child has (or may be suspected to have) special needs.
What follows for some might be various stages of assessment and/or procedures, meeting with specialists, enduring long and anxiety-provoking wait lists, and the real possibility that the future has deviated from the path it was on. This is not an experience anyone plans on and it requires a great deal of adjusting to emotionally as parents navigate new challenges.
What can you do?
· Assessment: If you or any caregiver of your child, suspects that there might be something worth investigating in your child, do it. If any aspect of your child’s development, be it physical, cognitive, behavioural or emotional, troubles you, have them assessed by a Paediatrician and let them advise you of what service may be necessary as a next step.
· Inform yourself: about the disability/illness, about services and resources available to you, about specific things you can do at home to help your child. Make yourself an advocate for your child so that you can make informed choices about their care. Ask lots of questions of your care team to arm yourself with whatever you need to know to make appropriate decisions and to feel more empowered.
· Join a parent group: everyone is at a difference stage in their parenting journey. It can prove very helpful to access the knowledge of parents who have been in a similar situation to you. Some groups are for specific conditions (eg Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Downs Syndrome), whereas others will be general special needs groups. The information gained can be invaluable, whether it is emotional support, practical advice or sharing common concerns. We know that people cope better at challenging times when they are supported, so arm yourself with as much support as you can.
· Look after yourself: this is an incredibly stressful time that is full of uncertainty. Parents often describe a period of grief, filled with sadness, anger, guilt and even denial. Sometimes parents disagree on what is happening and that adds stress to the relationship and the situation generally. It is natural to want to withdraw and parents report feeling isolated. Don’t ignore your feelings until they get out of hand. Seek professional help if you don’t feel adequately supported so that you can be the best parent you can be. Remember your child needs you.