“but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” -Romans 5:3-5
I hesitate to even write something like this because I can see how it would easily be interpreted as complaining. However, I think that sometimes when one can serve as the voice for many to be heard, it is beneficial for all. I have met other parents with special needs children and while our stories don’t look exactly alike, this list I think addresses issues most parents feel. Even parents with typically developing kids will identify on some points.
Children are a blessing from the Lord, and as we learn what struggles each of us face, “to walk in one’s shoes” so to speak, maybe there can be room in our hearts for patience, compassion, encouragement, and even prayer toward one another.
- We often feel overwhelmed mentally.
Feeling physically exhausted goes with the territory of any parent with small children. And you do sometimes feel like you will lose your ever lovin’ mind. But raising a special needs child is especially mentally taxing. There is a steep learning curve for parents to learn medical language for example. There are encounters with neonatologists, neurologists, audiologists, optometrists, GI specialists, geneticists, podiatrists, sleep specialists, along with his general pediatrician.
Then we learn the ropes (and jargon) for therapy with Early Intervention, the “experts” in Autism (or whatever the disability), speech, occupational, physical, and playgroups. We find out what our insurance will and will not cover, and then play phone tag with the insurance companies.
Parents with special needs children are later immersed into the world of education (and there’s a whole set of special terms to learn here as well). Obviously we want the best for our child, and I am personally grateful for the educational opportunities we have been given. But this also involves 2-3 hour long IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings with your child’s “team” to write out goals and services for him that are legally binding.
Sometimes when we don’t agree with the educational team about his placement or switching schools (again) there is push back. We are their advocates and sometimes that requires fighting “the system” to do what we feel is best for our child.
Most children with Autism have sleeping problems (as high as 80%). This affects not just the child, but also everyone else in the house. Parents are sleep deprived long past the newborn stage and are expected to function as if nothing is wrong.
- We worry about our child’s lack of development
We wonder if they will ever become independently functional. What will happen if one or both parents die? What will happen to her once she becomes an adult? Will I still be able to care for her?
Worrying about the future is fruitless because no one knows the future except God. But the fears still haunt us and for me it calls for daily trust in the One who designed my child.
- It can feel very isolating
We can’t carry on the same conversations with other parents about our kids. While yours is playing tee-ball and learning about rockets, mine just learned to drink from an open cup without spilling. We celebrate in a big way those little milestones because it’s a small step toward progress for him.
I have to work at not feeling angry or cursed in isolation just because others “don’t get it”. Honestly, it isn’t their job to understand my situation although it would be nice. I have to remember that Jesus sees me and He has carried us through so far. When Christ lived on earth He was misunderstood and even rejected. The Lord sympathizes with my heart.
- We love our kids!
It pains us to see them struggle or not quite fit in but its just part of the deal. Other special needs parents I know Google like crazy, research like grad students, take their child to a renowned doctor states away, sit in a waiting room while their son has a 6 hour operation, inquire over the best therapy places in town, or special sports teams/activities and attend parent support groups.
These parents are warriors for their kids, utilizing all the resources available to them. All so they can give their kids their best chance to thrive.
- We may not be great at relationships
This goes back to the isolation thing. It is very hard to connect with someone who looks at you as if you’re from a foreign land when you tell them about your day-to-day activities. And sometimes when we sense a lack of grace in how we raise our kids, we draw back. If you thought there wasn’t a manual for parenting a typical child, there definitely isn’t one for raising a special needs kid. It is a vast frontier of uncharted territory for us and we are doing the best we can just like you are.
I also just do not have the mental energy at this time right now. Even scheduling lunch with a friend outside the regular routine makes me want to hyperventilate.
Friends and family who stick by us understand if we don’t call enough or visit enough. There is already a load of guilt for not doing “all the things we should”.
We long for community and a support system, and some of us have it, but some are in a season of life where survival mode is the only option.
- We connect differently with our kids
Like I said before, we love our children, but for me personally, communication is an obstacle. I understand (and interpret) what he says some of the time. My little guy is persistent though and will repeat the same word a few times hoping I’ll make sense of it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and we just move on both a little disheartened.
We tell our children we love them over and over, even if we never hear it back. We play their games, the habitual ones (spinning, anyone?), because we long to meet them where they are, so we step into their world.
It’s mind numbing for sure, but for that time he looks in my eyes, holds my hand, falls asleep on my chest, or squeals with delight? Well, that makes all of this totally worth it.
To the parent of a special needs child, you are doing a great job just for getting out of bed each day ready to take on the daily challenges and demands. Don’t give up on your baby.
To others who know of someone with a child who has special needs, show them grace. Understand that their lives function differently than the rest. Give them a hug or shoot them an email of prayer/encouragement. Parents need it!
Hopefully we can all take a step closer toward loving others right where they are, however messy or hard. It is in those moments the light of Jesus Christ is reflected back to the ones you reach out and serve. And isn’t that what we all want in the end? For the world to see Jesus in us, because He is the very best thing for every parent and every child and every person.
Grace upon grace,