Parents of disabled children experience a wide range of emotions. Having a child with special needs can be draining — physically, mentally and emotionally. Talking with others about your child’s special needs can be difficult, but knowing what to say can help you cope with the situation and educate others at the same time.
Managing your feelings
If your child is diagnosed with a disability, it is common to feel a range of different emotions, such as denial, guilt, shock, anger, fear and sadness. It can be an overwhelming and stressful time.
Your child will need extra care and support. Soon you will have to start navigating the disability service system, which is complex.
It is important to try to acknowledge your feelings and look after yourself as best you can.
To help you accept and manage your child's diagnosis, try talking with your partner, your other children and family and friends about how you feel. This will also help support them during this time. You can seek extra support from your extended family and a counsellor.
Find out more about your child's disability. This will help you understand your child's needs and help you plan support and care for your child.
Avoid comparing your child with other children. Try to see your child's strengths and opportunities. Focus on progress. Your child will still be reaching goals — celebrate their efforts with them.
It is also important to keep in mind the needs of any other children you have, and your own adult relationships. Try to keep up your existing family routine. This can limit the stress on yourself and the rest of your family.
Talking about your child's disability
You may feel embarrassed, or other people may feel awkward and not know what to say or how to act around you. But talking with others about your child’s disability can be a positive experience.
You can educate other people about your child's condition and needs, which can help build support and understanding.
It is a good idea to have a response ready so you do not have to keep thinking of what to say if someone asks about your child's disability.
People will respond to your child's disability in different ways. Sometimes you might be offended by what people say or how they act. Sometimes you might choose to ignore them. Other times you might challenge any comments or acts of discrimination.
If you find it hard to talk with other people about your child’s disability, you can talk to a qualified counsellor for support and guidance on dealing with your situation.
Special needs? What next?
If your child is diagnosed with a disability, starting early intervention is very important. The type of early intervention and treatment depends on your child's disability.
You may need to take your child to see a paediatrician and other health professionals, who can assess your child's needs and help you organise the right care and support. This is also important if you and your child need to access financial support and parent support.
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.
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Last reviewed: May 2021