Let’s face it. You weren’t expecting ADHD, Autism, bipolar disorder, FASD, or any health issues classified as a neurobehavioral disorder. No one does. It comes at you suddenly, from behind, and with great force. It’s more than being blindsided; it’s like falling out of the boat, without a life-jacket, and without knowing how to swim. Oh, by the way, there are piranhas under that dark surface too. It’s unexpected and terrifying.
So what do you do when you’re not expecting a developmental or neurobehavioral diagnosis?
Go ahead. I’m not kidding. Freak out! Panic! Have a pity party.
Feel sorry for yourself, your child, and your family — it’s natural. Take some time to wallow in the fact that your in-utero plans for your child’s future have possibly changed altogether. I know that’s not the advice you expected, but you have to acknowledge and validate those feelings so you can move beyond the shock and grief and eventually reach a good place.
When you’ve cried until there are no more tears and taken in the “Why Me Monster” as though he is your new BFF, come back to the real world and start researching to discover your next steps to get on your way to successfully parenting a child with neurobehavioral special needs. Take as long as you need — there aren’t rules for this and the information will still be there when you’re ready.
First Things First
Okay, stop panicking now. While it feels like it initially, a behavioral disability diagnosis is nothing to panic about. In fact, I challenge you to celebrate the impending clarity that comes with diagnosis. There’s a certain amount of relief to finally knowing why your child is struggling.
There is one essential thing to remember when your child is first diagnosed. You are not alone. Say it with me, “I am not alone. I am not the only parent who struggles with this special brand of parenting.” You may even want to post it on your bathroom mirror and treat it like a personal affirmation for a while. It certainly won’t hurt. Parenting a child with special needs can be very isolating so you will need to consistently remind yourself that others know a similar journey.
Acceptance of your child, just the way they are, is crucial, now more than ever.
Grieve the Loss
I’m sure you visualized your child gloating about their latest “A,” or crossing the stage during college graduation at some point during your pregnancy or adoption process. It’s an innate instinct to want the very best for our children and to visualize their life’s milestones very early.
A special needs diagnosis often initially feels like an abrupt end of many of your dreams for your child. Finding out your child has a disability establishes the possibility that all your dreams for them may not come true. But it doesn’t mean their dreams aren’t possible.
Let’s face it, receiving an ADHD, Autism, bi-polar, FASD, learning disability, etc. diagnosis for your child is tough. No, it’s not a terminal illness or a physical handicap, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel sorry and grieve. Your pain is valid, even if it isn’t as intense as someone else’s. You just found out your child has a neurological disorder — that something didn’t quite go right when their brain was developing — and that entitles you to a period of sorrow. If you weren’t upset about it, that would be something to worry about.
It’s natural to grieve when your child is diagnosed with any disability. Your world has changed — either your expectations have been shattered or you have come to the realization that the madness chaos is here to stay, at least somewhat. While it’s necessary to go through that period of grief, you also have to get beyond it. Feeling sorry long term doesn’t help the situation one bit.
Take a little time to be sad, angry, scared, heart-broken. Sit in a room alone for a couple days. Take a bubble bath until you shrivel. Cry. Scream. Recoil. It’s okay to be irrational for a few moments and let these feelings surface. It’s even healthy, dare I say. Take a few days, maybe a week, to process and work through your feelings — then move on because wallowing is not going to help you or your child.
I sat in front of the T.V. alone in my bedroom and stared out the window for a couple days after my son’s ADHD diagnosis. I cried a lot and I have a faint memory of eating lots of ice cream. I tried not to think about ADHD, yet it was all I thought about for days. Years in fact, if I’m honest with myself.
Gratitude and positivity are the only roads to genuine happiness. For that is how we survive, and eventually thrive. It is easy to feel hopeless when parenting a special needs child. I decided wallowing in my sorrow wasn’t doing me, my son Ricochet, or anyone else any good. Denial and tears were not going to erase his ADHD and they weren’t going to teach us how to do the best for him either. So I chose to direct my compass toward the positive and I moved on to gathering knowledge, the next crucial step.