Special Needs

Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on October 4, 2011

Special needs – developmental delay – parenting – parents of children with special needs

I just read a blog that a friend of mine wrote about her special needs daughter, and it helped me realize that I’m not the only one who struggles.

I love being a parent, but I must confess: it is difficult sometimes. Double that for parents with special needs children, because they have amplified feelings (the children, not necessarily the parents.) Children with special needs often get more frustrated, more depressed, more moody than typical children. I know what you might be thinking: your child is no piece of cake either. Well, imagine if your child couldn’t learn her ABC’s while all the other kids were racing ahead, learning how to read by 1st 2nd or 3rd grade.

The way education goes is thus: you first learn how to read, and then you read to learn.

My daughter is ten years old and she is still struggling with decoding words. She cannot write a word by herself, much less a whole sentence. She wants to play with other kids, but they don’t have the patience for her because she doesn’t understand the rules. She feels more at ease with children 4 or 5 years younger than herself, because they don’t expect much competency from her. And her interests skew young: she still watches Barney and Caillou, which are designed for 3- to 5- year olds.

The hard thing to understand is that she is very bright. She just can’t put it on paper, or put puzzles (like language) together. She is smart enough to know that she is not learning like everyone else. She gets mad, and asks me “when will I go to a regular school with all the kids (who live nearby)?

When she was little, we identified her issues before she was even 3 months old. We thought she would “grow out of it” and catch up.  Now that she is ten, it’s easier to see that she will never catch up, and that we will be lucky to see her reach a fully functional level.

The best way to handle the vagaries of being a parent of a special needs child is to let go of the drive for a specific outcome. It is crucial to only focus on the positive attributes of that child. For example, my daughter has the rare ability to be empathetic, and she reads social cues even better than I do. She gets along with just about anyone, especially if they are willing to go down to her level. And she will be an excellent cook or baker or pastry chef some day, based on her love of food.

Special needs kids change the people who work and play with them. Adversity has a way of improving a person’s character, making them more patient and understanding and sometimes more kind. It takes an extraordinary person to parent a special needs child.

I now have many friends who are incredible, amazing people in part because they are the parents of special kids.

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