I have recently been coaching some wonderful parents who have a child with ADHD and as a former 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.
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.
Remember: 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.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
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.