My child just received a special needs diagnosis. Where do I go from here?
You go grieve.
You let go of the idea you had in your head about what your life and child would look like. You let yourself feel every emotion as it comes and don’t shame yourself for a single thought. This feels hard and unfair because it is.
Then, you go find people who understand. Your other friends mean well, but no one can truly empathize with special needs parenting unless they’re living it.
Find people who can say, “I get it,” instead of “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” Those people have walked through fire and will become your fierce advocates and friends. Through them you’ll discover that pain has less power when we pass some of it along, and they will do just that: Shoulder your worry and fear. They will place you directly inside a circle of support and surround you until you’re healed. They will help you navigate this new world.
Forget “tribes.” These men and women will become much more. They will be your teachers. If you can find them face-to-face even more wonderful, but don’t discount the value of a virtual village too.
Next, you take as many breaks as humanly possible. To Target, to Tahiti, to your closet floor. Find space in this world that doesn’t involve your child for a second.
After a new diagnosis, self-care may be a term you laugh at. Who has the time and money for that? But in order to survive as a special needs parent you’ll soon realize that self-care doesn’t just come from manicures, but from taking care of your actual self.
Cooking healthy meals and going on long walks so that your body is strong and can carry an arched back toddler in throes of a massive tantrum.
Reading gossip magazines and watching reality TV so your brain can recoup from too many foreign medical words learned in therapy.
Cleaning out a junk drawer in order to control what we still can.
Notice none of this has anything to do with your child. Help will come for them—pediatricians, therapists, resources—but parents need recovery too. You must carve out time to care for yourself and that will save you as a mother.
I know this part seems scary and foreign but it's also a bookend—an end to your wondering. From your initial suspicion to actual confirmation might have been an excruciatingly long time, but now it’s done. No more limbo.
Just remember, as you move forward into this new world: They are the same baby you birthed. The same newborn you swaddled. The same child you’ve cared for unconditionally. Don’t let new information fool you into thinking they are a stranger. Don’t let the unexpected convince you that the worst is ahead. They’ve always been this person, they’ve just revealed a new layer of themselves to you.
So don’t ditch the dreams you had for them. Just bury the child that lived solely in your head and start learning the one that’s been with you all along.
And consider this:
Even though a diagnosis feels heavy, it’s also an invitation to a richer, more connected life. Never again will you not see the little things.
Welcome to your new world.
There’s a ton of beauty here.
Originally published here.