Your child has “special needs”. Someone you love survived an accident, but they’ll never walk again. Those things happen to others, but now it’s happened to you or someone you love. You never wanted it, you never asked for it…but you suspected it and now it’s confirmed. Now, what?
You feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach – unable to catch your breath. You can’t think, you can’t talk about it, and if you’re one who prays – you might not even be able to pray. You know life will never be the same – and it won’t. It will take a while (and it’s different for each person), but when the shock of this new reality sinks in, you’ll realize there are many with whom you can now relate. In the United States (according to the Disability Information and statistics via Joni and Friends):
- 54M (M=million) people (20.6%) are living with some sort of disability
- 26M people have some level of severe disability
- 9M people are disabled to the point of needing personal assistance for everyday activities:
- 1.6M use wheelchairs
- 4.8M use canes
- 1.8M use walkers
- 4.2M use hearing aides
- 1.7M use back braces
- Of those with disabilities:
- 6.1% are under 18
- 6.9% between 18-24
- 14.1% between 25-54
- 28.4% between 55-65
- 38% over 65
- 56% over 85
- Some 19 million people who are defined as severely disabled do not use a wheelchair, cane, crutches, or walkers.
With such statistics, we must recognize that what we thought would never happen to us or to someone in our life, probably will. Whether it’s ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), mental retardation, Alzheimer’s, autism, Down syndrome, spinal cord or brain injury, Muscular Dystrophy, sensory integration, spina-bifida, or some other special need, it is likely that someone you know, or you, will be affected. Now, what?
Like anything else in life, the “now what” is easy to hear; harder to apply. Here are some things you can do if:
The Special Needs Situation Involves Someone Else:
- Look around – become aware of those around you and their needs…
- Learn to show compassion to others – you will grow as you become aware.
- Offer help when you’re able – you will learn as you serve.
- Read about the disabilities of those people in your life who have the challenge of a special need. Read like you would if it were your disability – they will be blessed and impressed that you cared.
- Ask questions and send kind notes of encouragement to them. They are seldom asked about their situation and rarely get encouragement outside their families.
The Special Needs Situation Involves Yourself or Your Loved One:
- Take time to evaluate the diagnosis, your feelings, your loved ones feelings, and discuss it. Don’t run and hide, even though you might want to.
- Ask questions. Get answers. Talk to doctors, therapists, social workers, agencies, others in your situation, etc.
- Find sources of resourceful help. It takes time.
- Share with others as you are able. Share what you are comfortable with.
- Realize you will probably follow the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief:
Denial – “This isn’t happening to me.”
Anger – “Why is this happening to me?”
Bargaining – “I promise I’ll be a better person if ______.”
Depression – “I don’t care anymore.”
Acceptance – “I’m ready for whatever comes.”
Both places are basic starting points. The journey takes perseverance, stamina, energy, endurance….and time. Are you willing to ask yourself the question: “Now what”?
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