Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dads and Labelled Children

I've read several sources that say fathers of children with special needs are often the hardest hit when a diagnosis is reached. To be sure, "diagnosis day" is hard on everyone, but dads seem to take it extra hard.

Some say it has to do with the fact that fathers have difficulty acknowledging the label their child has been given. I happen to believe this, because I went through it myself. I went through the first few months of Whitney's life doing the best I could to pretend that nothing was wrong. As she missed milestones and my wife's concerns grew, I tried to look past it all and convince myself that everything was fine.

It's been years since then and I worked my way past that difficulty a long time ago, but I see the same pattern in the lives of other dads. Do we feel like having a "labelled child" somehow reflects badly on us as men? Do we feel like we are somehow weakened in others' eyes because our child looks or acts different than the other kids?

I hope not. But if this is the case, may I suggest that the most amazing displays of true manliness I've ever seen were put on by fathers of special needs children who are active in their kids lives. Involved special needs dads are a rarity. A large number of dads find it easier to withdraw. Many parents of special needs children divorce. But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you're the father of a child affected by 1p36 Deletion Syndrome, Autism, Down Syndrome or whatever, you can be involved. It might be difficult at first, but you won't find anything on earth that is more rewarding. Trust me, I've been there. Start by taking an interest in your child's therapy or schooling. What are his or her goals and desires? How can you help achieve them? Pitch in with your little one's care. Spend time with your child just being together.

Before you know it, you'll realize you've completely forgotten those "diagnosis day" feelings and how others view you. You'll have become be the kind of dad whose special needs child greets them at the door with a big hug after a long day's work.

Remember, no one else can completely fulfill the role you have as a dad. And dad's posess a special place in the hearts of "labelled children."

1 comment:

Genevieve Kilman said...

I love the picture of you and Whit! You are right, a dad who is involved with his child with special needs definitely shows what a true man that person can be. I think it is great when you share thoughts like this so other men can read them and look to you for support.

On the teeth note- I hope that is going well. I actually had a dream that Zoe lost her first tooth (I guess her turning 4 makes her much more of a big girl in my mind). I panicked and thought "How is this going to affect her eating, taking meds, brushing her teeth, etc?" So when her time comes in a few years, I will definitely be looking to you guys for some pointers on dealing with this new milestone.

Wow- Whitney sure is growing up fast!