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To New Parents of Children With Disabilities, From a Disabled Adult

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“Will my child live a full life?”

“Will my child be happy?”

“What kind of life will my child live?”

If your child has been recently diagnosed with a disability or mental illness, these might be a few of the questions running through your head. Like all parents, you want success for your child, but if they’ve been given a new diagnosis, it can jeopardize their chances of success.

But what if that doesn’t have to be the case? What if your child can have a successful life in spite of their challenges, their quirks? What if your child can beat the odds?

You see, my parents and I were in the same situation you’re in now. When I was 5, I was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which makes all of my senses overly sensitive. Eleven years later, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (which causes constant worry) and panic attacks (which cause periods of intense anxiety that stop me in my tracks).

With each new diagnosis, my chances of success seemed to slip away. Life was hard enough with sensory processing disorder. It made crowds and loud noises almost impossible to cope with, and it took extra effort to be successful in unfamiliar situations. Suddenly, I had two new conditions that caused debilitating anxiety and stressed me to my breaking point. How could I thrive and be successful when every day was more difficult than the last?

Not surprisingly, my parents and I dealt with many unknowns, and no one knew how my life would play out. Would I make friends? Would I graduate high school? Would I learn to drive? Would I go to college? Would I ever live independently?

You’re likely dealing with your own unknowns as well. You’re in uncharted territory, and the unknowns are scary. Fortunately, these unknowns are not the end of my story. And they’re not the end of your child’s story, either. With the support of my family, friends and my care team, I’ve beaten the odds that were stacked against me. I believe your child can beat the odds as well.

Just because your child has a diagnosis doesn’t mean their life is over. Your child will likely need more support to be successful, and as their parent, you might need to redefine what success looks like. My diagnoses have taught me that there’s more than one route to success.

Even though it was scary, forging my own path made me successful beyond my wildest dreams. I graduated high school from a small charter school instead of a large high public high school. After high school, I enrolled in a community college where I earned my Associate of Arts. I then transferred to a small public university where I made a close group of friends, got involved on campus, made the Dean’s list almost every semester and lived away from my parents. In May 2020, I will graduate college and earn my bachelor’s degree.

It wasn’t easy to get to this point, and none of these accomplishments happened by accident. It took a lot of frustration, tears, prayers, support and readjusting my plan to make these accomplishments happen.

Your child will find the path that’s right for them, and this path will enable them to live life to their fullest potential. People aren’t meant to take the same paths, and that’s OK. Everyone has different needs, so don’t be afraid to step off the beaten path if it doesn’t work for your child.

In this season of life, I know it can be hard to remember that your child is more than their diagnosis. You’ve heard from experts who are likely informing you of your child’s limitations. In between appointments, it’s natural to wonder what kind of life your child will live.

But here’s what you need to remember: your child is a unique person. They were put on this earth and placed in your life for a reason. They have a purpose in this world that only they can fulfill. And you are the one who can best help them find their path. You are the one who can best advocate for them. You are the one who knows their needs, quirks, personality etc. the best.

Your child doesn’t need a perfect parent. They need you.

At the end of the day, what your child does or does not accomplish doesn’t matter. What matters is that you love and support your child and help them to reach their full potential, whatever that looks like for them.

Life will be more challenging for you and your child because of your child’s diagnosis. You are going to make mistakes, and you aren’t going to have all of the answers. Fortunately, there are people who are willing to support you and your child. There are doctors, counselors and therapists who will help you navigate your child’s challenges. There are support groups available for their disability and mental illness. There are friends who will celebrate victories with you and rally around you when life gets hard. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to be your child’s only source of support.

So parents, take a deep breath. You got this.

Getty image by Fizkes.

Originally published: December 9, 2019
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