Surviving The Diagnosis

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

The road to acceptance can be a long one for parents of children with additional/special needs or disability.  Some reach it quicker than others, some struggle to get there at all.  There are many stops along the way where we can get ‘stuck’…

Pre-diagnosis – worry

Is there something wrong? Are we just being paranoid?  What’s wrong?  Is it serious?  How do we find out?  Who do we ask?  Do we want to find out?  Secretly, are we avoiding this? 

Eventually, we ask, or someone else asks, and we start to find out… and it can take ages!

In our case, we noticed that James was not developing as fast as his sister had.  At first, we put it down to boys not always developing at the same speed as girls.  Then we had some hearing tests done (which James initially failed spectacularly… until we realized he had an ear infection at the time!)  Bit by bit things got ruled out until we finally got a diagnosis.

Diagnosis – shock

What does this mean?  We don’t understand…  So many questions…  How did this happen?  Was this our fault… Blame… Did we do something wrong?  Why did this happen?

Why us?  Why not somebody else?

Suddenly we are faced with the loss of the future plans and dreams we had for our child, for our family, for ourselves… It all lies in tatters…  It can be devastating, we grieve for what is lost…

When we received James’ diagnosis, he was only 2½ years old.  It was a hammer blow to us all as we tried to understand what we had just been told; that James has Autism and associated Learning Disability.

Looking back now, we realise that we were experiencing grief…

Parents of children with additional/special needs or disability will experience this grief too, going through the various stages, maybe getting stuck on one of them (‘denial’ for example).  Sometimes, just when you think you’ve made it to ‘acceptance’, something happens that spins you back to the beginning all over again…

Five stages of grief

Denial/isolation – overwhelming emotions, inability to control them, fight or flight instinct kicks in… denial of the situation, blocking it out, hiding from it and hoping it just goes away…

Anger – reality and the pain of the diagnosis breaks through our denial, it can burn deep and cause us to lash out at those trying to help us.  It can be terribly destructive, and can and does cause relationships to fail…

56% of families with a disabled child have major or significant relationship difficulties or breakups.

Bargaining - “If only we had…” trying to rationalize it, trying to regain some control of the helplessness and vulnerability we feel. If we have a faith we might try doing a deal with God “If you make this go away I’ll…” trying anything to protect ourselves from the painful reality…

Depression – sadness and regret about the lost dreams, a deep sense of mourning for what is lost… coupled with a gradual and profound realisation that this isn’t going away.

Acceptance – not a gift received by everyone. It’s not about being brave, but a gradual sense of understanding of the emotions that we are going through, of the changes that the diagnosis will bring for us, for our child, for the rest of our family, and a growing desire to move forward and make the best of things.

Things will be different, but they can still be OK… We are ready to embrace not what might have been… but what is…

Where are we going?

Italy or Holland?  We have experienced a change of destination, we’ve ended up somewhere we didn’t expect, or initially want, to go – how will we respond?  How will it affect us?

How will it define us? Will we let this diagnosis be a negative drain on our lives? Stuck at ‘Denial’? ‘Anger’? ‘Bargaining’?  ‘Depression’?    So many are still there… where are you?  Or will we use this diagnosis as a positive inspiration for our lives? Having reached ‘Acceptance’?  Embracing what is, rather than what might have been? 

And if so, think about how… What are you going to do?  How will this define you?

We do not go through this alone; if we have faith, then God stands with us.  As he said to Joshua, he says to us: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

I choose positive inspiration!

Me? This is James, and because of him I choose positive inspiration, I make a stand for it, that’s why I do the work I do… working full-time in additional needs ministry with Urban Saints and co-founding the Additional Needs Alliance.

I will not stay in denial, it will not define me.

I will not stay angry, it will not bind me. I will not keep bargaining, I will face the truth.  I will not permit depression to hold me, it has no power over me now.

I choose acceptance, I claim it.  I choose positive inspiration, for my son’s sake, for my family’s sake, for my sake… I am surviving the diagnosis…

Will you join me?  Will you join me??

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Blessings,

Mark

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