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Coming to terms with the reality of having a disabled child
What is happening?

If you’ve just found out that your child has a disability that may affect them temporarily or perhaps more permanently, it can be quite a bombshell. This knowledge will undoubtedly be upsetting, and coming to terms with it might also put strain on your relationship.

Why is this affecting our relationship?
1. Support

When you learn that your child has a disability, you need as much support as you can get from professionals, friends and your wider family network. It’s that support which takes a bit of strain off the family unit, so if this support isn't in place, the frustration and the challenges can affect you, both as individuals, and as a couple.

2. Feeling redundant

One of the overriding feelings in this situation is powerlessness, particularly during the pregnancy phase. Sometimes there’s little or nothing you can really do to help your child. This feeling can be quite overwhelming, and although the sentiment of wanting to help comes from a good place, it can actually cause parents to withdraw.

3. Coming to terms with reality

You may both be struggling to come to terms with the situation, which is perfectly normal and understandable. It’s difficult to talk about and you may need some time to come around to the way things are now, but if you’ve not discussed the diagnosis and its potential impact, neither you nor your partner will be granted the opportunity to voice your concerns for the future of your child. Furthermore, you won’t have the opportunity to discuss the implications that raising a child with additional needs will have on your relationship.

How can I help myself and my partner?
1. Support

Talking to a doctor or even a specialist can be helpful. They should be able to provide you with more information on your child’s needs and refer you on to other organisations for further support. There are more than half a million children in England alone living with a mild to seriously disabling condition or chronic illness [1], so don’t assume that you’re alone or that support is unavailable. External organisations can be helpful. Contact can put you in touch with a number of local groups that support parents of children with additional needs.

2. Feeling redundant

The difficulty here is recognising what you can control, and accepting what you can’t. Understanding this might well help to limit your frustrations and allow you to focus on what you can actually do – for both your baby and your partner. If it helps you, write a list with two columns – one for what you can help with and one for what you can’t – and talk the list through with your partner. That way, they'll know what you’re trying to accomplish and can support you in it. They may also point out where you’re putting too many expectations on yourself.

3. Coming to terms with reality

Although it’s a basic sentiment, establishing an open, honest and supportive way of communicating with one another is really important as a way of strengthening that ‘togetherness’ that you’re both going to need.

If, in your past relationships, you’ve had the habit of sweeping issues under the carpet, this might be especially difficult for you. Now is probably a good time to buck that trend.

Again, it may be worth a visit to who will be able to provide you with support options.


[1] Glenn (2007) UK Glenn, F. (2007). Growing together, or drifting apart. London: One Plus One.

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