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Parent Reactions to a Child's Disability - Reactions to a Child's Disability

Learn How Many Parents Respond to a Child's Disability

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Learning that your child has a disability can be one of life's most significant stressors.  Parents' reactions to learning that a child has a learning disability can range from relief to despair and everything in between.  Further, parents' responses may shift and change depending on many factors such as the level of disability, the family's coping skills, the parents' ability to work together to meet the needs of the child and of each other.  Learn more about typical reactions parents may have.

1. Denial - Some Parents Deny Their Child Has a Disability

Denial is the refusal to acknowledge that the child has a disability.  Parents in denial may make excuses for a child's school failure because they do not want to accept that a disability is present.  They may blame school failure on teachers or a spouse.  They may accuse the child of being lazy or refuse to allow special education services to be provided.  Why does denial occur?  It is profoundly frightening to some parents to acknowledge a disability exists.  Denial is usually a sign of deep rooted fear that a disability means a child will fail in life.  This often a parent's worst fear.

2. Anger - Some Parents Become Angry When a Child Has a Disability

Anger is a close cousin of denial because it is based on fear.  Parents who are angry about their child's disability may blame schools or a spouse.  That anger may come out in the form of criticism, a belief that the school system cannot serve the child adequately, and tense and difficult IEP team meetings.  Why does anger occur?  Like denial, anger is usually based on the fear that a child will not succeed in life.  That often builds on fear that no one can or will help.

3. Grief - Some Parents Feel Grief over a Child's Disability

Grief is a powerful sense of loss that many parents feel when they learn their child has a disability.  Grief may occur because a parent worries about the future.  Grief may occur repeatedly throughout a disabled child's life if they fail to achieve various milestones and social rites of passage that other children typically achieve. 

4. Relief - Some Parents Are Relieved to Learn Their Children are Disabled

Relief may be the last thing you would expect a parent to feel upon learning their child has a disability.  But relief does happen, often because a formal diagnosis of a disability gives parents an explanation for the struggles their children have faced.  Some parents are relieved because a diagnosis of a disability can qualify a child to receive special education accommodations and specially designed instruction on an individual education program.

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