Common Parent Reactions to a Child's Learning Disability

Grief and denial are typical reactions to discovery of a child's diagnosis

Learning that a child has a learning disability can be one of life's most significant stressors for parents, but they don't have to fall apart upon news of a diagnosis. Parents can not only cope but also take steps to give their children the best care they need to work through their disability.

Before parents can move forward, however, they often feel emotions ranging from relief to despair and everything in between after discovering a child has a learning disability. Some parents don't just have one reaction but shift from one emotion to another, depending on the seriousness of the disability, their coping skills and ability to work with spouses or other family members to give their special needs children the support they need. 

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Denial - Some Parents Deny Their Child Has a Disability

Troubled woman, husband in background
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Denial is the refusal to acknowledge that the child has a disability.  Parents in denial may make excuses for a child's academic setbacks because they do not want to accept that a disability is present.  They may blame school failures on teachers or a spouse instead. They may accuse the child of being lazy or refuse to allow special education services to be provided.  Why does denial occur? It is profoundly frightening to some parents to acknowledge that a disability exists.  Denial is usually a sign of deep-rooted fear that a disability means a child will fail in life. This is often a parent's worst fear.

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Anger - Some Parents Become Angry When a Child Has a Disability

Anger is a close cousin of denial because it is based on fear. Parents who are angry about their child's disability may point fingers at others.  That anger may come out in the form of criticism, a belief that the school system cannot serve the child adequately, and tense and difficult Individualized Education Plan meetings. Why does anger occur? Like denial, anger is usually based on the fear that a child will not succeed in life. That often builds on fear that no one can or will help.

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Grief - Some Parents Feel Grief over a Child's Disability

Grief is a powerful sense of loss that many parents feel when they learn their child has a disability. Grief may occur because a parent worries about the future. Grief may occur repeatedly throughout a special needs child's life if they fail to achieve various milestones and social rites of passage that other children typically achieve. 

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Relief - Some Parents Are Relieved to Learn Children Have Special Needs

Relief may be the last thing you would expect a parent to feel upon learning their child has a disability. But relief does happen, often because a formal diagnosis of a disability gives parents an explanation for the struggles their children have faced.  Some parents are relieved because a diagnosis of a disability can qualify a child to receive special education accommodations and special instruction under an Individualized Education Plan.

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