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The First Thing You Do When Your Child Receives a Diagnosis

where do you go from there?

Did your child just receive a special needs diagnosis? It’s a lot to take in. Almost immediately your head is filled with questions—questions for your child, but also questions for yourself. How do you handle such news? Our mommy blogger, and fellow mom of kiddos with special needs, has some insight for you if you’re in that space right now. 

My child just received an autism diagnosis. Where do I go from here?

You go grieve. You let go of the idea 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 fiercest 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—they will 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 be much more. They will become your teachers. If you can find them face-to-face, that’s 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 autism 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, such as cooking healthy meals and going on long walks so your body is strong and can carry an arched back toddler in the throes of a massive tantrum. Or reading gossip magazines and watching reality TV so your brain can recoup from too many medical terms learned in therapy. Maybe cleaning out a junk drawer in order to control what you 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.

This is a bookend—an end to your wondering. Autism differs from a lot of other diagnoses because initial suspicion to actual confirmation is often 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. Forget 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.

Stephanie Hanrahan was just your seemingly average housewife until she grew tired of pretending and took an axe to her white picket fence (also known as making her private journal public). Learn how she traded her pretending for a panty liner on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Tinkles Her Pants, where she chronicles her journey as wife to a husband with chronic illness, mother to special needs kiddos, and a woman who often unravels then finds her footing again.

Images courtesy of Jennifer Baumann Photography.