The first thing parents do when they discover that their child is in any way disabled is to blame themselves. Sometimes this happens at birth but some disabilities are not discovered until later in a child’s life. Disabilities range from the more extreme to the less extreme but wherever your child is on the spectrum it can be really hard as a parent to accept it.
We all want our children to be perfect but even a child without a recognised disability teaches us that he or she is not perfect. They teach us all the time as they grow, and often seem to teach us the lessons with which we struggle the most. After some time, more experienced and older parents will cease their quest for perfection and will claim that all they want is for their children to be happy- not necessarily brainy or popular or rich, just happy. And how does one achieve happiness? How rich I would be if I had the answer!
I worked with a boy in a wheelchair with severe physical impairment. He was referred to me because he was unhappy. He suffered from anxiety and phobias. I thought, ‘Perhaps he’s unhappy because he is in a wheelchair.’ We did have to work on him accepting his disability but what we had to work on mostly was his parents also accepting his disability, then on him and them being able to separate from each other, which had been hard because he needed a greater level of care. Work with other agencies helped this boy’s independence, together with my work with the family. At the end of it all we were left with a happy boy. He had great pleasures in his life and very rewarding relationships. He was not unhappy about his disability – it was the added pressures this brought that had made him unhappy. These added pressures were to do with acceptance.
It can be harder to accept a disability later on in a child’s life. It can feel like the child you thought you had is gone and you need to change your idea of your child. We all find change a bit hard, even those of us who claim to thrive on it. It challenges us at the best of times. To think of anything or anyone as different to what you thought takes a bit of getting used to. Grieving needs to happen, and when you are through it you realise that your child was there all the time, just a bit different to your original idea. More than that, mostly parents realise that their child is more than the person they knew before the disability. Their child is a person who has come to terms with a disability and is stronger for it. A new respect can often come from a lately diagnosed disability.
Some people do need extra emotional help with disabilities – parents and children. Generally the support available through charities and local services is excellent. What
some people struggle with is that sheer panicky inability to think, when the disability, for whatever reason, becomes too overwhelming. Once careful supportive thought is applied to a child and family, things can suddenly begin to look better again. To put it in context, we are all on a spectrum of ability and disability. It changes as we grow and as we age. Physical, mental and emotional abilities and disabilities all shift, and we have to shift with them. Once we have been able to make that shift, we can generally draw on our internal resources and find the positives that have been there all along, just temporarily hidden. For some of us, it is harder than others, and those with
greater disabilities have greater journeys. But happiness is very possible to achieve, and that is all any parent wants for their child.
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists