Adjusting to a disability

David Sherman, Guest Columnist

David Sherman

The concept of change can be best expressed by a sense of newness, and at times, uncertainty. Everyone responds to change in a different manner. Many welcome and embrace it, while others may resist it. Whatever your response is, none of us cannot avoid encountering reversals at some point in our lives.

However, for those who confront the world of disability, change can be both frightening and overwhelming.
Many of us live with some degree of physical or cognitive impairment or know someone who does. Whatever your story entails, the onset or progression of a disability or chronic illness involves challenges that are not readily welcomed. Any adverse changes are difficult to both understand and accept. The future is uncertain.

In my professional life, I have observed how particular changes in the lives of the elderly and those with special needs can be challenging at best. Many clients often share with me many of the burdens they carry. The majority once had excellent health, fulfilling careers, strong marriages, meaningful relationships, favorite hobbies and other aspects that make for a rewarding life.
Living with special needs has transformed their lives and those close to them. Several inherent changes occur as a result a temporary or permanent disability. A life of independence to dependence. Relative financial stability to significant loss of income. Physical and/or mental health to impairment. Comfortable family roles to ones that are new and unfamiliar. The list goes on….
We know that many of life’s adverse events are inevitable and unpredictable. They are not always the consequences of poor choices. However, we can choose how we respond to them. You may ask, “What purposes are there in my new circumstances?” or “What possible good can come out of this?”
Here are five ways I have seen individuals and families adapt and adjust to disability without giving up or losing hope.

1. Open, honest, and loving communication.
Discussing personal struggles and challenges when coping with disability can be very difficult for many people at the onset of or during its progression. Not everyone responds the same or can adapt to significant changes so readily. Each person copes in his or her own way. They may be experiencing feelings such as anger, resentment, or a sense of feeling trapped. Whatever the struggle, there is a need to communicate these emotions whereby each person feels safe and supported. Misunderstandings, assumptions, and misinterpretations are exposed and relationships can become strengthened.

2. Receptive to adjusting to new roles and responsibilities.
Any life-altering event requires new and unfamiliar roles to be filled. Those facing disability discover ways of coping with the daily strain and unpredictability of events. Each person agrees to be willing and teachable when assuming new or existing responsibilities. They learn to master the art of cooperation by maintaining family unity and looking out for the welfare of the one requiring care.

3. Seek support from family, friends or church community.
It is amazing to see how people rally to support those who are hurting and in despair. Do not be afraid to ask for help from those whom you trust and respect. Learning to delegate tasks will relieve immediate family of assuming all the responsibilities. Additional support will ease everyone’s stress and create closer relationships. It now becomes a team effort!

4. Research public and private agencies that provide resources.
There are several county and state agencies where one can obtain case management and possibly qualify for benefits and essential services (there are certain income and asset limitations). You can also explore community resources that are free or of little cost to those who qualify for services. Tension and conflict within the home will be reduced with increased financial and practical assistance.

5. Engage in social and recreational activities together as a family.
This may not always be feasible for families who have a child or spouse with special needs requiring ongoing care. However, there are respite and home care services available that permit primary caregiver(s) to participate in various activities, confident that their loved one is being cared for. They can enjoy some relief from the daily stress of care giving duties.
There are other means too numerous to mention by which individuals and family members can use to make adjusting to disability easier. Having a plan with all supports and measures in place is one such strategy. Following the abovementioned suggestions will provide greater relief and peace of mind to you and your family.

David Sherman is the owner of Disability Consulting Solutions in Minnetonka, which offers support services to those with disabilities and their families/caregivers. For more information, visit