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Don't Fear the Diagnosis

It's not the end of the world, it's the first step to getting help

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Pediatrician
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Something's just not right. You know it in your head, your heart, the pit of your stomach. Your child isn't developing like other kids. But you're afraid that giving a name to your fears and putting a label on your child will make things real that you'd love to believe are imaginary. How do you find the strength to move from suspicion to certainty? And even after a diagnosis is given, how can you accept that this is your child's fate?

Seeking a diagnosis for a child is one of the hardest things that parents can do. It means putting aside dreams of one kind of life for your child and setting off down another path. But fear and denial don't help your child. Getting the proper diagnosis and treatment does. As you set out to help your child, keep these five things in mind:

Your child is still your child. The things you love about him or her remain the same. There will still be moments of joy and calm and silliness and general uneventful family life. You may learn to treasure those more. Every kind of special need brings with it its own particular stresses and tragedies and struggles and frustrations, but rarely is it every minute of every day, every bit of your child's being. Your child is still your child. And this is just part of life.

Labels are not the enemy. None of us likes to think of our precious child as just another bowl of alphabet soup. Labels can seem scary or limiting, defining our loved one by their dis- and not their ability. But a label can also help you to get services for your child, therapy, insurance coverage, the right school placement, tolerance for behaviors, understanding and support. A label is just another tool for getting your child the help he or she needs.

You are not alone. The internet has made it possible to network with parents and organizations across the country and around the world. Online you can find support groups, forums where experts will answer your questions, sites filled with information about your child's diagnosis, announcements of gatherings and conferences, and other resources that can help you become part of a community of people who know just what you're going through.

Every child is different. Kids develop at their own pace, they respond uniquely to therapies or medications or treatments, they follow their own path. Don't assume that because you've heard sad stories about children like yours, your family's story will be sad, too. And don't assume that because one thing doesn't work, nothing will. Your child is a unique individual, and although a diagnosis may provide a useful template, it's not the whole picture.

There's always hope. Life for people with disabilities has improved enormously over the last century, and there's no reason to believe that progress won't continue. Medical breakthroughs are made every day. New therapies are constantly being developed. Different educational techniques bring undreamed of results. Tests are becoming more sensitive and medications more targeted. And sometimes love and a strong will can perform miracles. Time to get to work.

Are you having trouble accepting your child's special needs, or the diagnosis you've been given? Take our poll and join the discussion.

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