Preparing for a special needs baby

Having a child with special needs changes everything ― here are ways to prepare yourself and your family.

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In most pregnancies, the ecstatic mum-to-be anticipates the birth of her baby with excitement, although she may also be nervous about her parenting journey ahead.

But what if your baby has received a special needs diagnosis? Those emotions would likely be multiplied tenfold, plus you would likely be upset… and terrified.

You may go through a host of intense emotions ― shame, guilt, anxiety. You may blame yourself – “Did I take my vitamins? Did I go somewhere dangerous? Did I do anything wrong?” ―are common questions you’re likely may ask yourself.

Esther Tang, mum to Caleb, 6, recalls the period on first finding out that her son had Down syndrome after an amniocentesis test, “It was like this emotional black hole that I was sucked into, and I stayed there for weeks, crying.”

Her turning point came when it occurred to her that discovering that her only child has Down syndrome was simply part of the process of getting to know her baby. “It was something that every mum went through, just that in this instance, I was finding out that my baby had a little extra something ― that chromosome 21.”

“It was something that every mum went through, just that in this instance, I was finding out that my baby had a little extra something ― that chromosome 21.”

As you await your due date ― you may be wondering, now what? We have suggestions that may help ease you into the journey ahead…

1. Educate yourself

You would probably be Googling about your baby’s diagnosis the minute you walk out of your gynae’s door. But be cautious of what you find on the Internet – often, you may be shown the worst case scenarios, which can scare you.

“It’s important not to panic and to remember that you are not alone. Find out what the resources are and where to find the help available to you,” says Veronica Lim, a senior social worker at Rainbow Centre, Singapore, who counsels parents on how long their child would have to remain at this not-for-profit organisation for special needs kids aged 2 months to 18 years.

Dr Amy Reale, principal psychologist and director of Comprehensive Psychological Services Pte Ltd, encourages parents to get educated about the disorder, including learning about the typical symptoms, types of treatments needed, as well as the prognosis. “Talk to your doctor, look into finding an appropriate paediatrician or specialist, read books and articles, and speak to parents of children with similar conditions,” says Dr Reale.

2. Allow yourself time to grieve

No parent anticipates getting a special needs diagnosis for their child. You may experience stages of grief including denial, anger, and sadness relating to the loss of having a typical child, Dr Reale notes.

Says Tang, “It was the darkest moment of my life with my husband. But we cried, we screamed, we quarrelled. Looking back, it was crucial to us growing as a family, and accepting what was to be the ‘new normal’”.

As a couple, it will take time to accept th ediagnosis and each parent may go through the healing process in different ways and at varying paces. "Having open and respectful dialogues, focusing on solutions, emphasising the strengths in yourself and your partner, and making time to maintain your relationship will be crucial,” Dr Reale advises.

What can you do, now that you’ve accepted the diagnosis? Tips ahead…