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Accepting SEN as a parent

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

For parents of children with special needs, there are some things they shy away from discussing - because they are hard and because they can be so easily misunderstood. One of these things is the long process that leads to acceptance.

The problem is that, for all intents and purposes, this process is a bit similar to a grieving process but it feels wrong to talk about it in these terms. However, when SEN is first diagnosed - first comes denial, then anger, then we do some internal bargaining, then we get low, then we accept it.

Our children are amazing and perfect. Yes, we know it. Yet, it’s not necessarily the kind of parenthood we’ve signed up for. Things are simply a bit different from what we planned them to be, just a bit harder, and we need some time to adjust.

There is a beautiful piece written about it in 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley and entitled “Welcome to Holland”. I can’t think of anything that sums up this process better - the initial perception of loss and then the growing appreciation of what is, of the tulips and windmills of Holland.

We hope it makes you smile too, fellow Holland dwellers.


by Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

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