FAMILIES are full of joy when they welcome a new baby.
Most families don’t usually think about how demanding parenting can be.
No one really gets any formal training for bringing up a child. “One learns on the job”, as the saying goes.
Families rely on their values, beliefs and experience when rearing children.
Have you ever wondered how rearing a child with disabilities might be different from that of a typically developing child especially in a society where there is little support or awareness of how to do so?
It can be overwhelming for families sometimes.
They often go through different stages of emotions after learning that their child has a disability.
These stages are denial, anger, bargaining (for example, saying to a God that if they ‘cure’ their child, they will be more committed to Him), depression and acceptance.
Families may be disappointed, embarrassed and ashamed that this is happening to them.
These psychological responses could even have an impact on relationships within and outside the family.
So, is there a way we can help to make things much easier for these families?
There is! As the African saying goes “It takes a community to raise a child.”
There are different ways we can offer support for families who are raising a child with a disability.
If you are a friend, aunty, uncle, grandparent, cousin, neighbour, colleague, religious leader etc., you can support these families in several ways including:
Allow family to grieve
Grief is a natural response to learning that you have a child with disability.
Families go through a range of emotions to grieve.
They may be sad, angry, disappointed and sometimes blame themselves.
In Ghana, we often don’t encourage grief.
For some religious people, you may be seen as losing ‘hope’ or ‘faith’ in the supernatural if you grieve.
People will often encourage you to put your faith in the supernatural and avoid grieving.
However, all these feelings are normal and valid.
There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to react to the news that your child has a disability.
Grieving is part of the process of accepting that your child has a disability and beginning to seek help for your child.
Avoid saying certain things
When we learn that a family has a child with a disability, our first response is to sympathise or show support.
We may mean well.
Some of the ways we however do this may end up hurting these families.
Some of the things we might be tempted to say include ‘I’m sorry’, ‘Is there no medicine to cure him?’, ‘If you disciplined him/her, they would stop that behaviour’.
These words may cause more harm than good and should be avoided as much as possible.
These expressions may be preferrable to use.
These include ‘typical’ instead of ‘normal’, ‘special needs’ instead of ‘mentally retarded’, ‘hearing loss’ instead of ‘deaf & dumb’, ‘child with Down syndrome’ instead of ‘Down syndrome child’.
Some individuals with autism however prefer to be referred to as autistic people.
Learning about the condition
By learning about the condition, you will begin to understand the difficulties the child has and may be able to support the family better.
This will go a long way to promote inclusion in our society.
The general attitudes and perceptions of the Ghanaian society towards disabilities are often based on fear and misunderstandings of people with disabilities.
Your help will go a long way to improve the lives of families raising a child with a disability.
The writer is Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,
University of Ghana.