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Good Grief: Understanding Your Feelings When Your Child Is Identified with a Disability


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Title: Good Grief: Understanding Your Feelings When Your Child Is Identified with a Disability

Good Grief Understanding Your Feelings When Your
Child Is Identified with a Disability
  • Lianne Lennert, PsyD
  • Connections Psychological Services

  • Dr. Lianne Lennert, PsyD
  • Licensed Psychologist
  • Connections Psychological Services
  • 2250 NW Flanders Suite 103
  • Portland, OR 97229
  • 503.539.4654
  • Multnomah Early Childhood Program
  • 14030 NE Sacramento
  • Portland, OR 97230
  • 503.262.4127

  • Although parents and programs alike can be
    uncomfortable with the grief process, trying to
    avoid grief limits access to energy for healing
    and transformation.

What this talk will cover
  • What grief is
  • What grief doesnt mean
  • Common feelings and reactions
  • Suggestions for support and healing
  • Transformations of grief

What Grief Is
  • Grief is a collection of emotional and
    physiological responses to a perceived loss

What Grief Doesnt Mean Common myths or beliefs
that lead people to avoid grieving
  • If I feel sad, it means that I dont or cant
    love my child as s/he is
  • Im weak or broken if I cant handle it
  • If I experience the grief, then my worst fears
    will come true
  • Ill never stop grieving
  • I dont have time or energy for that
  • I grieve because I love my child, and letting
    myself grieve leaves me free to love
  • Grief is a normal part of human experience
  • Feelings connect me with reality so that I can
    cope realistically
  • No feeling lasts forever
  • It takes even more energy to hold off grief than
    to grieve

Myths Dreams and Fears
  • Getting news that kills a dream
  • Every parent has at least three children
  • The dream child
  • The feared child
  • The real child

Myths Dreams and Fears
  • Parents who find out suddenly that their dream
    child isnt real often assume that this means the
    feared child is the one they must learn to love.
    But no dream or fear is an accurate image.
    Parents who disconnect out of fear risk never
    knowing the real child, a child with strengths as
    well as challenges, who is eager to know and be
    known, to connect and grow. Grieving the dream
    and releasing the fears leaves parents free to
    recognize and love the real child as well as to
    face the challenges.

Grief Feelings and Reactions
  • Stages of Grief
  • Shock and denial
  • Anger and bargaining
  • Sadness
  • Acceptance and transformation
  • Dont necessarily occur in this order
  • Revisited at transitions and milestones

Shock and Denial
  • Feelings
  • Energetic
  • Restless
  • Dazed
  • Numb
  • Disconnected
  • Overwhelmed
  • May not feel anything
  • Reactions
  • My child is finelack of follow through on
    appointments, phone calls, etc.
  • Unreflective compliance with program
  • Going through the motions at home

Shock and Denial
  • Shock and denial help a person to cope with
    immediate crisis by postponing feelings and
  • At the shock stage, a parent may decide things
    that in retrospect arent the best choices
  • A parent who gets stuck at this stage may not get
    help for a child who needs it
  • The shock/denial stage takes a huge toll
    physically, and if prolonged, may leave a person
    depressed or sick

Shock and Denial How to Support Yourself
  • Expect it and recognize the symptoms
  • Take or make timeprograms have legal timelines,
    but parents have final say
  • Postpone or plan to revisit decisions made at the
    shock stage
  • Maintain routines in other areas
  • Get exercise, eat healthy, and get sleep

Grief Anger Bargaining
  • Feelings
  • Anger
  • Desperation
  • Panic
  • Frustration
  • Rage
  • Confusion
  • Determination
  • Sense of injustice
  • Anger at God
  • Reactions
  • Attack programs and program personnel
  • Seek second opinion
  • Blame self or partner
  • Fight with partner or others
  • Avoid spiritual practices
  • Make many demands

Grief Anger Bargaining
  • Anger mobilizes energy for coping and change
  • Its easy to get stuck at this stage, because the
    next stage is painful and frightening for many
  • Parents who get stuck here risk burning out their
    support systems

Anger Bargaining How to Support Yourself
  • Recognize the source of the anger
  • Understand that angry feelings can distort your
  • Choose your battles
  • Recognize your allies

Grief Sadness and Mourning
  • Feelings
  • Exhaustion
  • Despair
  • Helplessness
  • Sadness
  • Emptiness
  • Guilt
  • Isolation
  • Reactions
  • Withdraw from activities
  • Seek close connections or time alone
  • Talk and listen
  • Cry
  • Sleep

Grief Sadness and Mourning
  • Sadness and mourning conserve energy, encourage
    connections with self and others, and allow a
    person to let go of unrealistic hopes and dreams
  • Time spent talking, journaling, and connecting
    plants the seeds for the next stage of creating
    meaning around the loss
  • Parents who get stuck at this stage may have
    trouble moving on to active coping strategies

Grief and Depression How to tell the difference
  • Normal Grief
  • Moves through anger, sadness, and action
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Increased awareness of vulnerability and
  • Slowed activity, reduced energy
  • Focus inward
  • Depression
  • Gets stuck at sadness and hopelessness
  • Pervasive feelings of guilt and shame
  • Thoughts of suicide and death
  • Incapacitating exhaustion
  • Withdrawal from most or all relationships

Sadness and Mourning Taking Care of Yourself
  • Expect to be tired and take time to rest
  • Choose nurturing activities such as talking to
    friends, spiritual practices, journaling,
    massage, walks, and music
  • Maintain exercise and healthy eating
  • Let meaning grow out of your experience rather
    than forcing it or allowing others to dictate it

Connections and Resources
  • Spouse/Partner
  • Extended Family
  • Friends, Neighbors
  • Church/Community Groups
  • Parent Organizations
  • Professionals
  • Books/Internet

Acceptance and Transformation
  • The first three stages prepare the way and
    provide the resources for the fourth stage
  • Research shows that choosing a meaningful
    response and taking action are important to
    resolving grief

Acceptance and Transformation
  • Feelings
  • Renewed energy
  • Hope
  • Identification with others
  • Compassion
  • Competence
  • Appreciation
  • Spiritual connection
  • Actions
  • Create solutions to problems
  • Reach out to others
  • Cherish your gifts
  • Share opportunities and resources
  • Facilitate changes
  • Live and love

Lessons From Grief
  • Grief is a normal process that frees a person to
    love more deeply and solve problems more
  • Grief is a cycle with its own rhythm and flow,
    and may show up again (often to a lesser extent)
    at transitions or milestones
  • Making room for grief is a valuable part of
    coping with the challenges of having a child with
    a disability