Monday, July 11, 2011

Guilt and Disabilities

When parents discover their child has a disability, one of the most common reactions is to look for a cause. I know. I did it.

When my daughter didn't speak according to average developmental milestones, I blamed myself. I thought I hadn't talked enought to her, exposed her to enough language, or had done something else wrong. Later we would discover her hearing problems, which appeared intermittently. No one was at fault--just one of those things that happen.

Parents of children diagnosed with autism believe vaccines were the cause. This is because of the timing of the diagnosis. Despite proof that the study that incorrectly identified a link between autism and vaccines, the belief persists.

My mother still feels guilty because she gave me children's aspirin when I had chickenpox. I didn't have Reye's syndrome, and suffered no long-term effects. But she still feels guilty about a choice she made based on the best information available at the time. This is something mothers do.

Recently I tweeted about the results of a study that identified how many cases of autism were caused by environmental factors. One mother became incensed because she saw this as a scientific effort to blame parents, rather than research into prevention.

Scientists don't examine diseases to make mothers feel guilty. They do it to advance knowledge.

Many parents get stuck in a cycle of guilt. Some may over accomodate their child in an effort to "make it up" to them. They may vent their frustration to the professionals trying to help their youngster.

Guilt is not a productive emotion unless it keeps you from doing something wrong. Guilt kept me paralyzed for a time. Guilt did nothing to help my daughter.

After I made the choice to stop feeling guilty and help my daughter, she began to improve. Despite a later educator's belief that my daughter would not learn to read, she recently completed her freshman year at a leading university. Unmodified.

Get out of the guilt trap and you will be a better parent.