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The Most Important Way to Support Your Child With a Disability

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When a child is diagnosed with a physical or learning disability, it’s often a difficult time for all involved. As a parent, it is understandable to feel devastated, confused, worried and generally overwhelmed by it all. However, there is something you can do that will help your child immensely – work to accept it.

Growing up with cerebral palsy (spastic diplegia), I know how important it is to have parents who accept the fact that I am disabled. I am quite sure they were upset when I was diagnosed, though they have never told me so. As I grew, they instilled positivity and resilience in me. They allowed me to try, to push myself and give everything a go.

The early years of my life were filled with their struggles to get me the help I needed, and I can tell by the countless letters stored away that it was indeed a battle at times.  As a parent of a child with a disability, you are often required to fight for what you and your child need. It can be incredibly frustrating and requires a lot of persistence on the parents’ part, but it is necessary. However, if you have not accepted your child’s disability, these battles will be much more difficult, no matter how worthwhile the end goal.

My parents were able to strike a balance between getting me the help I needed while hanging back enough to let me grow. I tried stuff out and while I have inevitably come across physical difficulties, it didn’t stop me from doing many things.

I don’t think it has always been easy for my mum and dad. They are naturally very protective (of my able-bodied siblings too), and my disability likely made it even harder for them to let go at times. It wasn’t always clear sailing either; we often butted heads during my teenage years when I wasn’t allowed to do things like get the bus alone etc.

When I think back though, a large part of my childhood was spent not feeling any different from others my age. That was likely due to my parents’ acceptance. You might think that accepting your child’s disability will do the opposite of this, but it really doesn’t have to. Accepting it does not mean you begin wrapping your child in cotton wool or treating them like an alien, it just means you do your best to support them in the way that they need it and help them feel as “normal” as possible.

I have come across a few parents who seemingly have not reached that acceptance. They have not sought out the help that has been available, making things more difficult than they have to be. I have also found that children with parents who do not accept their disability often do not accept it themselves. After all, how can a child grow to be happy with themselves if their own parents cannot help but resent the cards they have been dealt?

I am not saying that accepting disability is easy, and it certainly does not happen overnight! I am also fairly sure many parents “fake it until they make it” in the sense that they still feel devastated, but want to present their best attitude to their children. Remember though, a disability does not mean your child cannot go on to live a happy and fulfilling life – and you play a huge part in that.

Getty image by nd3000.

Originally published: May 29, 2019
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