“Your son will have developmental delays.”
I turned to my husband with a genuine smile, thinking my son, who had been in an induced coma for a week, and who I feared would come home in the same condition, was now being handed a hopeful future.
My husband, seeing my smile, twisted his face angrily and quickly left the NICU room, slamming the door behind him.
The same words were spoken to both my husband and I, in the same place and time, by the same doctor; how did we hear them so differently?
Miscommunication happens all the time.
We send a text, thinking our tone and wording was spot on, and somehow our intended meaning gets lost through the technology.
The same can happen when we leave out critical information we expect our audience already knows.
And for many conversations this doesn't bear much weight; if we want to clear things up, we can and if not, no harm done. Simple misunderstanding.
But when the topic is our child's medical diagnosis, good communication is absolutely necessary.
The most important gift we can give your special needs child is a strong co-parenting relationship.
If the parents are on different pages with accepting this life-changing information, we've got a bigger problem than the diagnosis itself.
Don't lose hope; there are many ways to keep communication open and less tense. A less tense home is best for everyone in your family!
Here are some strategies if your child is newly diagnosed and one of you is having a hard time accepting it.
Being patient with your partner as they process a diagnosis shows them their emotions are important, valid, and worth waiting to hear.
Be patient as they adjust to new medical terms, too. Care plans, specialists' roles and treatment always include medical jargon, which can be hard to understand.
Allow your partner time to process.
Receiving a diagnosis for your child is both a relief and the start of a roller coaster ride, the track, twists and turns of which you can't predict.
It is altogether frightening, angering, depressing and exhausting. Giving your partner space and time to process lets them know you will be with them along the way.
Ask them, “Is this a good time to talk?”
You've just come back from a great appointment with a rehab doctor. You're excited to share what he said with your partner.
But will they perceive the information in the same light as you did? There's no better way to find out than to ask first if you can share.
And if they say no, accept that and agree to talk when both parties are feeling up to it.
Try to keep emotions in check.
Your son is about to undergo surgery and you're freaking out. Your daughter just had her first seizure.
Your child is starting school, beginning with a new therapist, finally getting a piece of necessary medical equipment, traveling out of state with you.
Whatever the new event, you're going to have strong feelings about it – good or bad - because it's happening to your own child.
But emotions running high are going to affect you, your child, your partner, and your perception of what is happening.
Acknowledge your feelings and share them with a trusted friend, or write them down in a journal.
Then approach the situation with your partner, with your emotions less intense. This will allow everyone to stay calmer and more clear headed.
Being a special needs parent is a joyful and rewarding role unlike any other. It can also be very difficult at times.
When you and your partner are on the same page with support of each other, you can and will enjoy that role – and your child – together.