I’ve been sent this question to my Sue Atkins Parenting Show podcast – where we all discuss every possible aspect of parenting, giving you advice and support on topics which affect your daily life. It’s bursting with practical tips, techniques and ideas. Come and join us and listen wherever to listen to your favourite podcasts.
I have recently been coaching some wonderful parents who have a child with ADHD and as a former Deputy Head teacher of many children with unique and different needs, I have been exploring with them how to handle the painful – and often overwhelming feelings associated with dealing with the diagnosis that their child is different.
Children who are unique need your parenting approach to be individual, flexible and creative as well as consistent and clear because they have different needs to other children and this can be very stressful for you as a parent.
• What is unique and special?
“Special Needs” is like an umbrella sheltering and hiding a huge collection of diagnoses underneath. Children with “special” or “different” needs may have trouble paying attention, profound mental retardation or be gifted, or they may have a food allergy be terminally ill or have a stammer. The vastness of the term can be confusing and bewildering.
“Special needs” is often commonly defined by what your child can’t do – by milestones unmet, foods banned, activities avoided and experiences denied. These minuses can hit you as a family really hard and may make “special needs” seem like a tragic designation or a millstone around everyone’s neck.
But I believe that a label should not limit a child’s potential and I see every child as a way to find a new opportunity to explore their potential in a new or different way that hasn’t yet been tried.
I have worked and trained with Dr Richard Bandler – the co-creator and founder of NLP when I was training to become an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer. He is an extraordinary man who challenges accepted ways of doing things and stereotyped labels as he is curious and fascinated by different and new ways to explore the way the brain works and how it can be improved and fine-tuned to enable everyone to reach their true potential.
After the initial shock of discovering your child is unique and special, gently and slowly change your focus from one of despair to gently and gradually starting to see it as an opportunity to learn how to help you and your child to explore and discover more about themselves.
Giving a child a label can limit them.
Some parents will always focus on the difficulties and grieve their child’s lost potential compared to others, but I challenge you to see beyond the diagnosis – to become a family who sees your child’s challenges as making their triumphs even sweeter and your child’s apparent “weaknesses” always being balanced by their amazing strengths.
• Dealing with the diagnosis that your child is different
The diagnosis is useful for getting the support or services your child needs and it is helpful in setting appropriate goals and gaining understanding that your child has a unique talent or unique need but I think it is worth pointing out that the diagnosis may come as shock or a relief to you and that whatever your reaction it is perfectly normal – some of you will have known from an early stage that your child was different, but for others of you it may be years before you guessed it and it may have taken you many visits to professionals to receive a clear diagnosis and for you to accept the new situation.
I remember when I was teaching a Reception Class when a little boy arrived on the first morning into the classroom and just ran round and round, then he started eating the sand and rocking on his seat sucking his thumb looking bewildered and scared. His Mum hadn’t wanted to bring him to the two “getting to meet the teacher” afternoons as she was frightened and scared herself about what was happening to her son but we helped the family get some professional help, support and a clear diagnosis of autism.
When I bumped into the little boy’s Dad one lunchtime in the local butcher’s he looked so relieved, relaxed and optimistic I was pleased we had helped the family come to terms with something that was overwhelming and frightening. They were moving forward with their lives, facing the challenges and anxieties and getting the help and support they all needed.
Here are some tips that you may find useful in the weeks and months ahead after receiving the news of a diagnosis for the first time:
- Give yourself time to come to terms and to develop an understanding of what this diagnosis means for you, your child and your family
- Avoid making any rash or major decisions in the weeks following the diagnosis.
- If you need to, do seek another appointment with the professional who gave you the diagnosis so you can ask more questions.
- Before any consultations decide what you want from the meeting and jot down any questions you have – it’s very easy to forget them during a meeting. Don’t forget to make a note of the answers. If you can’t go to the meetings together do take a friend or relative if you want support and another pair of ears to help you remember what was said.
- The diagnosis may affect each of you as parents differently – while one of you may be able to accept the diagnosis, the other may feel that it is not correct and continue searching for alternative explanations for your child’s difficulty – that’s why it’s important to give yourself time and discuss all the decisions made about your child.
- Be aware that there will be mixed reactions from your family and friends to the news of the diagnosis- some are very supportive or some are very hurtful and distressing.
- Educate yourself about the condition that is affecting your child – use all the sources of information available to you – library, Internet, other parents, organisations – knowledge is power.
- Do seek a second opinion on the diagnosis if you feel the diagnosis you have received is flawed.
- Get to know the professionals in your area – Who are they? Where are they based? Do they work as a team or individually? – try to get to know the team that is dealing with your child and build a relationship with them.
- Begin to keep notes of all your meetings with the professionals you are working with and if a professional is compiling a report on your child ask for a copy to keep with your records
Many parents I’ve worked with find it very helpful and supportive to be involved with the organisation or support group that represent children and families with similar special needs.
I know making the initial contact can be a very big and frightening step but remember these groups can be a source of fantastic ongoing help and support. When you are ready, do make contact. You are not alone – and it helps to know that.
• How A Diagnosis Affects You
The reaction to hearing a diagnosis for the first time will be individual to you and how you react will depend on a number of factors such as:
- the severity of the diagnosis
- nature of diagnosis and the prognosis for your child
- your child’s age
- presence of other associated disabilities
- your pervious experiences and knowledge of the condition diagnosed
- your child’s temperament
- your own temperament
- the amount of help available
- how you were told about the diagnosis
It’s perfectly normal to grieve after hearing a diagnosis and most parents experience a reaction similar to a feeling of bereavement – because while of course, you love your child whether they have special needs or not, it is important to acknowledge that you have suffered the loss of a child who may have followed a customary path of development.
Of course, the presence of a child with special needs in your family alters your family relationships and the way it may now function, including the closeness of parents and other siblings. However, remember these changes may be positive as well as negative. It is down to your positive attitude and mindset about how you are going to handle this challenge.
That’s why I am passionate about using strategies and techniques that I’ve learnt in my 22 years as a teacher and from my years of studying NLP to help you move forward in your lives creating the happy, harmonious and fulfilling relationships and experiences that you all deserve.
If you’d like to find out more about positive ways to raise children with unique and special needs there is far more detail and resources in Chapter 14 of my book “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” which covers Dyslexia, ADD, Dyspraxia, Asperger’s Sydrome, and the gifted and talented.
I am here to help, support and guide you through the challenging and stressful times -there are 7 stages that you may go through during this time ranging from anger, denial to acceptance and I run a 6-Week Confidence Coaching Programme to support you as a family through the diagnosis and practical ways ahead.
Give me a call if you’d like some advice and support – you are NOT alone. Tel: 01883 818329
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
T: 01883 818329