Parental Denial: A Conversation Of Value

Visualizing a future for ourselves is a deeply human concept. Unlike other animals, humans tend to not just visualize, but plan, prepare and almost lock their future with a misguided sense of guarantee. We do everything in our ability to be absolutely sure of what the future would hold for us. Yet, sometimes life can throw a curveball at us that forces us to alter that vision in ways that can be incredibly challenging, especially given the harmful surety we carried in regards to that future we planned.

In a society where neurotypical individuals are seen as the “norm” and neurodiverse people seen as an anomaly, it is understandable why a lot of people picture a future for themselves with neurotypical kids. It is, after all, the clichéd idea of a family that is propagated and percolated to us from a very young age. It is, then, challenging to find comfort and acceptance within oneself, and their kid, when they are made aware that their child is neurodiverse.

Denial becomes a big part of a parents’ early experience of life upon such a news being told to them. It can impact not just how they perceive the world, themselves, but also their relationship with their child, often creating accentuated challenges for the child that make it tougher for them to find comfort in their experience of growing up.

There are chiefly three reasons why parents can go through an elongated period of denial in such cases–

Social Stigma – Neurodiversity comes with immense social stigma, often as something that these parents understand in theory, but not as something that could happen to them. This can, therefore, shock them into denial. This can often be because neurodiversity is often understood as an alien, “othered” idea.

Parents themselves come from a place of unawareness, and hence susceptible to believing or being consumed by these stigmas. This makes it tough for them to accept truth for its raw facts, making them take solace in denial, pretending like neurodiversity is still an alien concept to their experience of life.

Lack of Awareness – There is an acute lack of awareness about neurodiversity societally, and these parents come from the same society that breathes in this lack of awareness. This gives space to stigmas, but also to makes the process of awareness more complex, simply because parents are quite often coming from a position of an incredible lack of understanding of neurodiversity.

Hope – When in denial, hope can be as much a force of encouragement as it can be a way to deviate oneself from the crude reality of things. Parents often cling to a miraculous tomorrow of improvement, often aided by religious pundits, and so-called well-wishers who convince them that their child might “get better” with time, and that this is just a “temporary face”.

This makes the idea of living in denial a preferred option for parents, instead of allowing them to accept that this is what their life looks like now. To see a child’s neurodiversity as a temporary situation makes them unequipped with the mature thought of accepting it, instead making denial seem like a rational idea, given the transient nature of the situation.

While denial is not always an unhealthy thing. It is, after all, one of the five stages of acceptance, it is important and even a healthy part of acceptance. It is a process – an arc – but one of the biggest causes of concern around denial in parents with neurodiverse kids is how it impacts their children at an early, impressionable phase of their experience as a neurodiverse child.

Early intervention is an extremely important need for a neurodiverse child. To have good, lasting medical aid can go a long way in ensuring that these kids can get the best possible life. For that it is essential that parents act, instead of remaining laid back due to an elongated period of being in denial of their child’s condition.

This can make for a future that is more challenging for the child. Experts have often emphasized on the importance of early intervention, and how that can make a major difference in the growing of a child. To understand the importance of early intervention, though, it is important that we first understand what it means.

Early intervention occurs at or before preschool (2 to 3 years of age). Kids’ brains are more impressionable, more changeable at this age, which gives medical experts a better shot at ensuring that they are able to get through to them. This has been regarded as one of the most crucial phases in the lives of a neurodiverse child as early intervention can help them get the best chance at developing to their fullest self. This becomes tougher later in life as a child’s brain starts to become less changeable, finding a rigidity that can be a tougher challenge for medical professionals to break through.

A timely intervention can help a child improve their IQ level, and be significantly better at language and motor skills, both of which can go a long way in improving the quality of life for these people as they approach adulthood.

This makes it extremely important for parents to deal with their denial in a healthy, and timely manner. One of the most important things to do would be to educate oneself. This can be tricky, given our knack to believe in myths more quickly than facts. However, in the world that we live in, information is accessible at the tip of our fingers, which makes educating oneself an easier way forward.

The news of a child with neurodiversity can be one of the toughest moments for a parent – one of those rare cases when the challenge offered by reality can be too daunting to be dealt with on your own. It is, therefore, a good idea to seek professional therapy to get through this period and find yourself to be at your healthiest soon enough for your child. A timely therapy would be a wonderful way for a parent to navigate through these tricky times, finding the right support to get a grip on their emotions. This would also help them to give words to their concerns, and help them escape worded silence that can often be burdened by bottled emotions. This can lead to a prolonged period of denial.

This would hopefully also help you to forgive yourself. A lot of times the fear of societal alienation can lead to parents feeling like somehow their child’s neurodiversity is their fault. While informed knowledge will help them to see neurodiversity in its medical model and not religious model, the idea of feeling at fault can still prevail.

A reminder that one did the best they could, and that all that matters now can be of great help. This along with the right professional help could go a great deal in giving parents the mental, and psychological understanding and strength that could help in reducing the impact of uninformed, regressive voices of the so-called well-wishers that only works as a hindering presence in one’s dealing with denial.

Denial is a common response in parents who have a neurodiverse child. It is not something that needs to be seen as a negative response. To acknowledge the legitimacy of that phase is the first and foremost part of working past it. There is a need to understand it, instead of stigmatizing it. From there on begins the process of speeding through it healthily, so that while a parent does not skip an important phase of dealing with a sudden change in life, they can also be present for their child and allow them a comfortable space where they can achieve early, important goals that would help them as they step on the ladder of age.

By Rachit Raj

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