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5 Strategies for Nurturing Relationships When a Child has A Developmental Disability

Most people enter parenthood with some idea of what their family life will look like. By the time they take their newborns home from the hospital, they are already anticipating the hugs and cuddles, the kisses and raspberries, the first I love you’s. They imagine their children playing baseball, running around with their friends or joining the school band. They think about how their relationship with each other will evolve as their children get older.

But what happens if this picture is abruptly shattered?

When a child is diagnosed with a developmental disability such as autism, the parents are forced to alter practically every expectation they had about what their family life would be like. Not only can this create an internal crisis within them as individuals, it can put enormous strain on the relationships within the family.

Although no reliable statistics exist, some doctors estimate that the divorce rate among parents of children with disabilities is as high as 80%. It doesn’t have to be so bleak, though. There are some steps that parents can take to weather the difficulties and strengthen the family relationships.

1. Allow yourself to grieve

When your child is diagnosed with a long-term life-changing condition, you are faced with the prospect of giving up your picture of the future. It can be intensely painful to realise that those birthday parties and school experiences that you have visualised might not happen. Give yourself and the members of your family the time and space to grieve.

2. Avoid getting lost on the Internet

Your first instinct might be to spend your waking hours Googling the condition your child has been diagnosed with. The Internet has its uses, but it can be problematic: a Google search of autism yields 88 million hits, many of which contain unreliable information. Too much research can make you feel exhausted and overwhelmed, and this can spill over into your relationships with your family.

3. Take care of yourself

Parents are programmed to take care of their children over and above everything else, and when a child is diagnosed with a disability, this instinct goes into overdrive. It might seem as if you don’t have the time or energy to spend on yourself, or you might simply feel guilty about doing something for yourself instead of your child. The best thing you can do, though, is ensure that you are physically and mentally healthy. The benefits for yourself and your family will be endless.

4. Nurture your relationship with your spouse or partner

It is common for parents to turn their focus to their child who has a disability, to the complete exclusion of everything else, including one another. Spouses need to be able to talk to one another about what they are going through individually and as a family, and they need to take the time to simply be together, enjoying each other’s company. A positive relationship between the parents can help the entire family.

5. Communicate openly with your children

A child’s developmental disability can have a dramatic impact on the typically developing siblings, who may not have a full understanding of what is happening. By necessity, the parents’ focus is often on the child with the disability, leaving the siblings feeling isolated and confused. Open lines of communication are very important, so that siblings can ask questions and express how they feel. At the same time, encourage positive relationships with the child who has the disability. Focus on his or her strengths, and find activities that the entire family can enjoy together.


How We Can Help

Dalton Associates offers many services to families who might be going through a major transition, such as a diagnosis with a developmental delay. Our team of Registered Psychologists, Registered Psychological Associates and other health care professionals are qualified to assist your family. Contact our office at 1.888.245.5516 to connect with a IBI/ABA health professional  in your community who can provide support for you and your spouse, and your children.

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