No, I don’t mean Normandy and WWII. I am talking about Diagnosis Day.

As a therapist, I usually see the event coming and try to work with a family to help them understand what to expect as they go to each doctor’s visit. I am a “glass half full” kind of person, so I look at the beauty of each child I work with and the potential for what we can accomplish together. To me, it is not about what the piece of paper says, it is about working toward the goals set before us.

I have said for years that a course in grief counseling for all therapists would be extremely beneficial. The stages of grief are not any different for a parent, as they accept the diagnosis of their child. They are in effect seeing the image of what they wished for their child be extinguished in one simple statement from a physician. Sometimes, the diagnosis may be something minor or mild; but even those parents are grieving too. For many parents, to protect and “take a bullet” for their child is as natural as breathing. When D-Day hits, the words strike the parent right through their heart; and there are very few ways that that can heal right away. Time and understanding, especially of the grieving process, is very valuable in learning how to handle these situations.

I am a physical therapist; but I am also a mother. I fully understand the pain of watching a child struggle and not being able to help. The incredible resiliency of a child is remarkable and inspiring. When D-Day hits, remember that the child is the same child the day before, the day of, and the day after their diagnosis. Nothing has changed except the insertion of a label. As a therapist, understanding the grieving process is critical to understanding how to help the family. Of course, you need to utilize your training to help the child; but the parents may need more from you as well. Be prepared with information for them and don’t be afraid to say you are not sure, but you will help them find out. We are not expected to know everything; but we are well-educated and know how to find out more information from reliable sources. I utilize my peers and colleagues across the nation, if necessary, to find out information. As the parents try to muddle through the medical terms, they are often bogged down with the definitions and how it all fits together. What they really want to know is “Will my child be okay?”

 

Get familiar with the stages of grief–this will help you help them more. Here are the basics:

1.) Denial

Many of our families may camp out here. This is an easy stage to stay in for a little while. Sometimes it is masked with the over-zealous “I will fix this” attitude. Be patient with them. They were just dealt a huge blow and need your support now more than ever.

2.) Anger

Maybe they will turn on you, so don’t take it personally. They are really just angry at the circumstance; but some people need a scapegoat.

3.) Bargaining

I see a lot of people caught up here for a long time. They seem to try to punish themselves for not doing more.

4.) Depression

If anyone stays here too long, I would recommend counseling. Of course, any parent or caregiver might benefit from counseling, as they navigate the phases. I try to encourage support groups of some kind; but sometimes social media makes a parent more guilt ridden and more depressed. The social media world is somewhat unrealistic of the day to day activities of raising a child, especially one with special needs.

5.) Acceptance

In the early years of therapy, many of the kids never even get a diagnosis fully developed. Even so, there are a great deal of parents who have made it to this phase, or at least are on the right track to get there.

 

Remember that the phases can be revisited if a new twist or turn occurs. Don’t feel like you are alone, if you are a parent. The therapists want to help you–that is why we chose this profession to dedicate our lives to every day!