Mom Looks For Answers After Her Child With a Disability Questions His Own Existence

In a heartbreaking Reddit post, one mom asks for advice after her 8-year-old who uses a wheelchair asks, "What's the point of me being on this earth?"

Girl in wheelchair looking over balcony

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A recent Reddit post shares the very serious concerns of a mom of a child with disabilities. In it, she explains that her 8-year-old son, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, expressed grief about not being able to walk and run like his friends. "What's the point of existence if I am going to just be stuck in a wheelchair all my life? Who will want to marry me?" he asks his mom, who turned to the Reddit community for help supporting her son.

It's heartbreaking for any parent to see their child struggle. As a parent of a child with disabilities myself, I can understand her concern about knowing the right thing to say—and in wanting to support her son in the best way possible. To find out how to best navigate these very difficult questions, I spoke to a few experts.

Validate Your Child's Feelings

"These are really big feelings for an 8-year-old", says Laura Phillips, Psy.D., APBdN, the senior director of the Child Mind Institute. They are scary for a child and for a parent to hear a child say. "But it's important for someone to bear witness to those feelings."

The first step in supporting a child who is struggling is to "let children know they can talk to you about their concerns whenever they want," says Karen Zilberstein, LICSW, a psychotherapist and author of the book Parents under Pressure: Struggling to Raise Children in an Unequal America. Children need validation that their lives may be harder than others. And they need a place to put their pains and worries.

Regardless of the type of disability, kids have similar developmental and emotional experiences adds Caroline Danda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. They are trying to understand themselves and who they are in the world. "They have all the same experiences as other kids with extra layers added on them."

Find Role Models For Your Child

Once a child feels heard, there are several ways to help them feel more in control of their own lives. Introducing kids to other kids or even adults with similar challenges can give them examples of what's possible. "Try to introduce them to people who can model the possibilities that life holds," Zilberstein says. Seek out that representation in the community or through the media.

Characters with disabilities are becoming more prevalent in books, toys, and movies. Finding diversity in the world can help someone feel less alone. "Representation matters so critically," says Dr. Phillips. "Stories about people with disabilities can show kids that people like Steven Hawkins and FDR have accomplished exceptional things, very often not in spite of their disabilities, but instead because of their struggles, which shaped their character."

Get Your Child Involved in the Community

Role models are important, but making sure kids are active and involved is another key component of helping them feel secure. Research shows that frequently attending activities has a greater impact on decreasing feelings of loneliness for children with physical disabilities. "Help kids with disabilities make friends and get involved with activities they can do," Zilberstein says.

Find adaptive sports like wheelchair basketball or hockey, groups like Special Olympics, or camps that accommodate kids with similar disabilities so they can share frustrations and bond. If adaptive sports aren't easy to find, ask the local community to find ways to adapt an activity so it's inclusive.

Get Your Child Involved at Home

Words are important, says Dr. Phillips, but actions matter too. She recommends assigning children with disabilities household chores, even if they need creative modifications or support to make it work.

"There is an inclination to protect or excuse a child with disabilities," she says. "That can backfire if kids feel they aren't held to the same expectation. By assigning them chores and requiring them to contribute, we're showing the child that they play a vital role in their home, and in the broader world."

Have Your Child Talk to a Therapist

When a child is born with a disability or one is acquired, there is a lot of attention on the physical accommodations or the lifesaving needs of the child. Finding space for the emotional impact matters too. Look for someone who has experience with grief, loss, self-esteem, and anxiety. "Temperament and fit matter most", says Dr. Phillips. "Finding a therapist a child can open up to is the most important quality to look out for."

Children who are unable to speak due to a physical disability or who have an intellectual delay may have similar feelings of frustration or worry. "Find ways to get them to express themselves, even through a communication board or by sharing books that teach children about emotions. Having visuals are a great way to help kids both understand and express feelings," says Dr. Danda.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 33% of adults with disabilities experience frequent mental distress. Many adults who seek mental health treatment reflect on the impact of mental disorders on their childhood and wish they had received help sooner.

Make Sure You, As Parents, Have Support

"Parents' own unresolved feelings about their children's disability can make them feel overwhelmed by their children's signs of distress and confused about how to address them," Zilberstein explains. If it's difficult to give children space to talk whenever they want, seek counseling or a support group for yourself. "Children need both your understanding of their challenges and your confidence that they can be okay and manage the difficulties with your help."

"Children and parents may go back and forth between hope, satisfaction, and despair at different times, especially when triggered by frustrations or new realizations," says Zilberstein. Continue the conversations as children grow and enter different developmental stages. "Keep the door opened and don't get upset if feelings resurface."

The important thing to remember is that feelings shift all the time. Regularly checking in to make sure children have what they need to feel supported and confident is key.

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  1. Hwang AW, Chang CH, Granlund M, Imms C, Chen CL, Kang LJ. Longitudinal trends of participation in relation to mental health in children with and without physical difficulties. IJERPH. 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Mental Health of People With Disabilities.

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Children and Mental Health: Is This Just a Stage?

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