This is a dilemma many parents face. It is difficult because parents want the support of family, and it would feel good to receive it. Instead, a parent’s concerns are invalidated and the parent is made to believe that what they experience every day with their child is “typical behavior for their age,” or not concerning.
Daily, I encounter parents who are initially significantly distressed and tearful, then relieved when I diagnose their child with a disability. The emotional catharsis is sometimes because they felt “stupid” or “crazy” for pursuing a diagnosis for their child. Numerous parents have stated this to me, “No one believed me, not even my family, and I tried to tell them.”
A lack of support from family is frustrating for parents. Some parents choose to delay psychological and educational testing, especially in early childhood, because they doubt their own observations of their child’s behavior. Other family members have told them to let it go. Some of the statements to parents include: “Give it more time,” “They’re too young for testing,” and “You did not speak either so it’s fine,” all as justification for rejecting parental concerns.
First, rest assured that you are not “stupid” or “crazy” for believing that your child has a disability. I dislike when parents feel that way after discussing their thoughts and concerns with their family. You are on the expert on your child because you are the parent. Feel empowered parents because your instincts are usually correct about your child, and you need to discuss them with your family with confidence.
Yes, it can be challenging and emotionally taxing to deal with family as they reject your observations of your child’s behavior; however, it is your experiences with your child that led you to consider whether or not your child has a disability.
If you suspect that your child may have a disability and you want to get your family on board with your concerns, here are some steps you can take:
- Gather Information: Before talking to your family, gather as much information as possible about your child’s behavior, development, and any concerns you have. Document specific instances or behaviors that have raised your suspicions.
- Consult Professionals: Start with your child’s pediatrician. They should refer you to the appropriate professionals who can conduct assessments, refer specialists, and offer professional guidance. Share any information or assessments you’ve received from healthcare professionals.
- Educate Yourself: Understand the specific disability in question by learning about it through empirically researched sources. Use this information to help you explain your concerns to your family more effectively.
- Share Your Feelings: After arming yourself with information, let your family members know how you feel about the situation. Express your worries, fears, and hopes for your child’s future. Help your family to understand the depth of your concern(s).
- Ask for Support: Let your family members know that you value their support and involvement in your child’s journey. Encourage your family members to ask questions and seek clarification.
- Seek Professional Guidance: If necessary, consider involving a family therapist or counselor who specializes in family dynamics and discussions related to disabilities.
What If My Family Does Not Accept My Child with a Disability? Your family may not accept your child’s disability. Although this type of outcome is sad, be aware that this can happen. However, regardless of your family’s views, other options for support are as follows:
- Self-Care: Take care of yourself emotionally and mentally. It can be emotionally draining to deal with family rejection.
- Build a Support Network: Seek out support from friends, other family members, support groups, or community organizations that specialize in your child’s disability.
- Empower Yourself: Advocate for your child’s rights within the legal and educational systems if necessary.
- Set Boundaries: If your family’s refusal to accept your child’s disability leads to harmful behaviors or comments, set clear boundaries.
- Maintain Open Communication: Try to remain in communication about your child’s progress, achievements, and challenges with your family.
Help your family members embrace and celebrate the differences in your child. Teach them that diversity should be valued and respected. If you have tried the recommendations in this blog and your family still dismisses your concerns or your child’s special education diagnosis and needs, then surround yourself with individuals and professionals who share your commitment to your child’s well-being and development.
If the attitude of family members is affecting your child’s emotional well-being, consider therapy for your child to help them cope with the situation. It can be incredibly difficult and hurtful when loved ones do not provide the support and understanding that your child needs, but your child has you to love and support them, which is most important to their growth and development. You are your child’s best advocate and while it’s painful to experience rejection from family members, your child can still thrive with the right support systems in place.