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Grieving the child you thought you would have - the acceptance process.

Photo credit: Shannon Lee

Your child has just been given a diagnosis. Now what?

It can be hard to admit for some parents, that it feels like our dreams have gone out the window as we make a vow to love and protect our children and support them no matter what.

Sometimes these feelings can make us feel bad about ourselves as parents.

But, we just want our kids to have the same opportunities in life as everyone else and that’s not always possible when a challenge such as this presents.

This is my son, Gabe - he has autism. You may have guessed it from this picture; he often lines things up and color codes them. It helps him make sense of his environment. He’s brilliant and unique in so many ways.

When he was first diagnosed shortly after his 3rd birthday it was hard; hard because the dreams and expectations we had as his parents were altered. Suddenly, the script for what it meant to us to have a little boy changed.

There were many feelings including denial, anger, disbelief, complicated by many unknowns and lots of societal stigma and assumptions that were going through my mind. There were worries about his future and what his life would look like....

  • Would kids be mean to him?

  • Would he be able to live independently?

  • Would he have friends?

  • Would he have intimate relationships?

  • Would he mentally healthy?

  • Would he appreciate his uniqueness or internalize society's messaging that he is different?

  • Will autism hold him back in life?

This sort of grief and worry happens to parents all the time in many ways; when their child reveals a new identity or when they have a mental or physical health issue, diagnosis or is prescribed medication, just to name a few.

I’ve learned (and am still learning) that it’s important to acknowledge all feelings a new diagnosis brings up and work through them. Sometimes this means having an ugly cry to process it all. After that, we can focus on fighting for acceptance within ourselves and others. We all hold unconscious beliefs.

We can see our kids for who they are. Autism is part of Gabe and he will die with it, we are not trying to “cure” him. We are trying to expand the definition within society of what is acceptable. We are trying to give him the tools he needs to feel comfortable with who he is. I do not want him to spend his life struggling with who he is because he doesn’t fit into the narrow box society provides for people. He deserves to have a life of fulfillment, acceptance, and equal opportunities, despite his challenges.

Children are very good at knowing how their parents feel about them so it’s very important that as parents, we work through these types of feelings, get educated on the condition and choose to focus on where strengths lie. This is how we open our mind to new possibilities for the future with our children. There is no place for guilt and shame as a parent. A child’s diagnosis can teach you a lot of things. Your only job is to help your child be the best they can be.


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