JUN 12, 2018
Parenting a Child with Added Needs
By Angelin Chua, Bright Path Centre Director and Psychologist
Parents today face a world of challenges. These challenges range from the basic notion of providing for their children to nurturing and developing their social-emotional selves. As most parents are already aware, parenting is one of the most challenging jobs that one could ever have. It promises a lifetime of devotion and commitment with no leave or remuneration. It requires no prior experience and does not come with any operation manual. It, however, offers unexpected joys and indescribable rewards that nothing else in the world can provide.
Sometimes parenting is made more challenging with the diagnosis of disability. Disability may bring about additional stressors such as financial strain, a sense of a lack of control and a rollercoaster of strong emotions. The journey to face and live with a disability is unplanned for as no parent would wish for his or her child to be sick, disabled or harmed in any way. Disability may affect parental expectations of raising a child; it may shatter dreams that parents may have for their child’s future; it may strain family relations or drive families into a state of chronic stress and crisis.
It can be a shocking and traumatic experience when parents learn that their child has been diagnosed with a disability. Parents may go through intense emotions similar to the feelings of people who have experienced major losses in their lives.
One of the first reactions could be denial where parents may question the diagnosis and query why this is happening. – “This cannot be true!; This is not happening to me!” Denial may be a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information or the reality of the situation. Denial may translate into anger.
When parents come to terms with the situation and realise that denial cannot continue, anger may manifest. – “Why me?; This is not fair!; How can this happen?; It is all your fault!” Parents may become angry with themselves or others around them.
Parents may become fearful as they embark on an unknown path that they have never trodden upon. They may worry about the future and the implications of the diagnosis of disability. – “What does it mean to have Cerebral Palsy? What is Autism? What will my child be like when he grows up?” Parents may fear that the condition may worsen; they may fear society’s rejection; they may fear other people’s views.
Some parents may feel guilty or blamed as they question the causes of the disability. – “Did I do something to cause this?; Maybe I did not take good care of myself when I was pregnant.” This phenomenon is especially evident for the parents of children who have been affected by the Shaken Baby Syndrome. Guilt feelings may be influenced by spiritual or religious views. – “This must be my bad karma!; God is punishing me for the sins I have committed.”
As parents become exposed to terminologies that they may never have heard before and seemingly endless amount of information, they may become confused when they cannot make sense of all the information that they are given. Their understanding may also be compromised as they experience a concoction of some of the previously mentioned emotive responses. – “What do I need to do for my child now? Where can I find out more about the condition?”
Communicate with your spouse; Share your feelings and emotions
Recruit practical help from others
E.g. extended families, neighbours, religious institutions, community and charitable organisations