Dear parent of a newly diagnosed child with special needs,
You are about to embark on a new journey. Want to know what to expect? What is predictable? Take it from a person who is on this journey, perhaps slightly longer than you, but learning everyday nevertheless.
Accept it. The sooner you do, the faster you move to the stage of learning how to deal with it. You need to realize that your life might never be the same. But also realize that the time you spend on denial, anger and self-pity is time lost from figuring out how to move forward. So honor your feelings, but also move on.
But do not lower your expectations. Your path might be totally different from what you had foreseen. Your child might be totally different from what you read in the pregnancy books. Yet know that if you assume and accept that your child might not be able to achieve 'that,' you will not give them the opportunity to learn. Do not assume that your child is less capable. Nurture them and cheer them so they can show you their capability.
Do something for you. You have many mountains to climb, you and your child together. If you do not pause to catch your breath, you risk burnout. And that you cannot do, as you are your child's anchor. Look after yourself and your mental and physical wellbeing. You owe it to yourself; you owe it to your child.
Be flexible. Plans will change as your life changes. You know how you planned before having this child that you will be a super mom, you will travel the world, you will soar in your dream career? Well, that might be but that might also not be. Be ready to change paths as this is your biggest task, to raise this special child of yours to reach their highest peak.
Take charge. Doctors, therapists, teachers will all be fantastic resources for you. But know that while they are experts in their field, you are the expert on your child. And that will lead to clashes. You will feel like you are not heard, you will see your child being undermined. Do not shy away but rather get ready to fight your battle.
Laugh. Keep your humor and recognize that not everyone is out there to get you. Learn to laugh by yourself, with your partner, with your child, it will get you through the most difficult times.
Forgive yourself. Oh, the mistakes you will make! With all the best intentions, you will screw up and you will hurt your child. Remember that guilt can be destructive and take you down. Instead learn from your mistakes and be done with it: let bygones be bygones.
Find new friends. Now that your child is different, your life too will be different. You will often feel that you live in an alternate reality with far more rules and far less spontaneity. During those times a cup of tea or even a call with that one friend who is in a same boat as you will make life feel a little less isolated.
But also remember that you are not all that different from the mother raising a seemingly typical child. We all struggle, we all learn, we all feel scared and above all we all love.
And take it from someone who's been where you are right now:
You will see life like you never did before.
You will fall in love like you never felt before.
Why? Because you of all people will try to make the world the better place your child deserves. So take care of yourself. You've got this.
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