When communicating with parents of children with special needs, it is important to consider the possibility that they are grieving. Loss and grief happen to us all, and working with children and families who are grieving can be difficult. These individuals are experiencing emotional pain and can be irritable or angry. Parents and other family members may have difficulty in trusting someone to care for their child.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is probably best known for her descriptions of how people grieve. She identified five stages of the grief process. These are:
Denial (this didn't happen to me!)
Anger (why did this happen to me?)
Bargaining (I promise I'll do better if...)
Depression (I just don't care anymore)
In the book, "Living With An Empty Chair - a guide through grief." Dr. Roberta Temes describes three particular types of behavior exhibited by those who are grieving. These include:
Numbness (functioning on auto-pilot and isolating socially)
Disorganization (intensely painful feelings of loss)
Reorganization (re-entry into a more 'normal' social life.)
Families who have children with special needs or people who experience trauma experience another kind of grief called "disenfranchised grief." This type of grief is not acknowledged openly, publicly mourned or socially supported. This type of grief is about the loss of potential development or the perceived loss of future. Each time a developmental step is not met for a child with special needs, the individual and the family repeat a cycle of grief. Over time everyone adjusts to the individual's current level of ability and a level of "normal" functioning continues for the family. The status quo is maintained until the next developmental step is not met and the individual and family again exhibit a grief reaction. Without help and support this can become a vicious cycle.
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