Sensory Scout Blog

The 5 Emotional Stages of Discovering That Your Child Is On The Spectrum

Posted by Vanessa Caalim on

The 5 Emotional Stages of Discovering That Your Child Is On The Spectrum

Learning that your child has sensory processing disorder or Autism spectrum disorder, or any condition, for that matter, can be shocking and upsetting.

Even if you’ve been seeing the signs for a long time, the official diagnosis can hit you like a ton of bricks, and leave you in an emotional stupor.

Maybe you’ve never experienced this yet. Maybe you’re experiencing it right now. Or, maybe you’ve already gone through it, and come to terms with it.

In any case, just remember; things do get better. 

Today, we’ll introduce you to the 5 psychological stages of grief that we see in parents who learn of their child’s disorder.

Stage 1: Guilt 

Most mothers would usually think “I must have done something wrong during my pregnancy,” and “It must be punishment for something I did in the past.” NONE OF THESE THINGS WERE CORRECT! Whenever anything goes wrong, moms have a tendency to place blame on themselves. It is important to understand that ASD is not caused by something that you did or did not do. It is not neglect. It is not your fault. 

Moms tend to blame themselves for everything when it comes to their kids. When you hear a diagnosis, your first thought might be something like:

  • “I did something wrong while pregnant”
  • “I didn’t raise them right as an infant”
  • “I didn’t feed them right”

Relax, and go easy on yourself.

You can safely put those feelings of guilt to rest. The truth is, we have no idea what causes SPD or ASD, and it seems completely random. It happens with kids of all backgrounds, no matter what.

Accept the reality that these things happen, and it has nothing to do with you.

Stage 2: Denial

Before too long, after the diagnosis, you’ll feel like there was surely some sort of mistake.

Even if you’ve been seeing the symptoms for a long time, and you always suspected there was some disorder present, you’ll have a strong feeling that it’s all just a misunderstanding. 

Surely a 2nd, or 3rd doctor, will clear things up. You visit different specialists, hoping to hear a different opinion.

Or, perhaps you have accepted the diagnosis, but you’re searching for a magical ‘miracle cure’ because you think you can make all this go away if you act now.

No 2 cases of SPD or ASD are exactly the same, so there is no use in wasting time trying to find any miracle cure or miracle treatment especially at this early stage. It will take more observation to understand your child better, anyway.

Understand that your child probably has some issues with sensory processing, socialization, communication, or potentially more. Remember; all people have their own issues, and their own personal battles to fight just in different ways. Your child is no different. 

Stage 3: Anger

Anger is a very common, and natural thing to experience. You may be angry at:

  • The mental health professional(s) who make(s) the diagnosis
  • The world, in general, or towards God (depending on one’s religious beliefs)
  • Their spouse
  • Society, for their apathy and/or ignorance
  • Other parents with “healthy” kids
  • The condition, itself
  • Therapists
  • Teachers

It’s okay to be angry at what’s happened, at your situation, and at the unfortunate circumstances of your precious child. It’s your right, as a parent, to feel this way. 

No matter what, though, don’t let it control you, or it will negatively impact your life: your relationship with your family, your mental health, even your career.

What will probably happen is that you spend a lot of time highly angry, and will periodically get triggered and be made to lash out, periodically.

Over time, this anger will fade. The anger explosions will be less and less severe, and come less frequently.

This stage can be extremely hard. It puts pressure on people around you, especially your spouse, who may be experiencing the same feelings as you.

While it’s okay to be angry, you don’t want to let these feelings get internalized. Vent when you need to, but carry on with your life, and don’t let anger get in the way of anything.

Stage 4: Depression


As the anger fades, you’ll probably just feel flat, hollow, empty; depressed. This is also natural.

Nurturing your child in the womb, and bringing them up as a baby, you probably had a lot of visions and hopes for what their life could be like, when they grow up.

You may feel like these dreams have all been smashed. Those thoughts are NOT necessarily true, but they can really painfully certain. This will dampen your mood, every day, like a wet towel.

Your confusion and disappointment can leave you dazed and even more susceptible to negative, sad feelings. 

You realize that the exact ideal family you’d envisioned will probably never exist, in real life. You know that sensory parenting is a 24/7 duty that you will be living with for some time- an extra responsibility that can feel draining and tiring.

Life goes on, though, and you’ll come to love and appreciate things you didn’t expect about your child, and even about their condition. 

If this is the stage you’re in, don’t sweat it. The depression fades. It gets better.

Stage 5: Acceptance

As the pain fades, you come to accept the reality that these things happen.

You start to appreciate the unique things about your kid and become proactive in treating them. The work is hard but rewarding, and it makes you happy to help your kiddo grow up and enjoy the most normal, comfortable childhood possible.

The hard times are behind you, and the future is bright!

Closing Thoughts And Reflections

“Good news, bad news, who can tell?”

That’s an old Chinese proverb, and it comes from a story that teaches a very wise message.

As a parent going through the shocking process of learning about your child’s condition, this story and its lesson can help you a lot.

An old peasant farmer goes to the market, and spends all his money on a new horse to help out on the farm. He brings it home, but it runs off into the wild the next day. The neighbor, hearing about this misfortune, says to the old farmer: “I’m so sorry to hear the bad news about your horse!”

To which the old farmer calmly replies, “Good news, bad news, who can tell?”

The next day, the horse returns- not only does it return, but it brings another horse! He gets them both in his stable, and now he has two horses. His son is excited: “Father, we have two horses, this is great news!”

Again, the old farmer simply says, “Good news, bad news, who can tell?”

The next day, the son is riding one of the horses, when he gets thrown off. He breaks both of his legs, and may never walk again. The neighbor, hearing about this tragedy, comes to comfort the old farmer. “I am so sorry about your son, that is terrible news!”

Again, the old farmer simply says, “Good news, bad news, who can tell?”

A week later, the emperor’s soldiers come to town. The kingdom has just entered a war, and they need every man to join the army. Every fighting age young man is taken off to dangerous combat… Except for the farmer’s son, who is spared because of his broken legs.

With a smile, the farmer reflects; “Good news, bad news, who can tell?”

You may wonder and pine over the thought of what your life would be without this condition in your child… But, keep in mind that life is never ideal, no matter what.  If they didn’t have this condition, they may have had something else. 

Plus, who knows; this ‘disorder’ can lead to opportunities, friendships, learning experiences, and so many more amazing things that you could never have guessed. 

Will this journey be challenging? In some ways, yes.

Will it also be rewarding and sweet in incredible ways that you don’t yet understand?

Yes, yes it will.

And we’re here to help.