On Special Needs…


When I was stuck in traffic after the camp drop-off this morning, I found myself musing about the day I first heard the words “special needs” applied to T. It seems a lifetime ago. I remember the combination of fear and relief I felt. What would this mean to him? To our lives? How had my life strayed so far from any picture I ever had of motherhood? Some part of me felt like I was betraying him every time I said it, by admitting that he wasn’t perfect. Another part of me was grateful that I had some external validation for my concerns about his behaviors- I hadn’t just been imagining it all along.

Special needs. Say it a few times. See how it feels.

You may feel embarrassed. You may feel like you’re getting benched, not allowed out on the field with these other competitive moms who are humble-bragging at the coffee shop about their six-year-old playing Chopin and speaking Mandarin.

That’s okay. Don’t stop. Say it a few more times.

You may find that it begins to change shape in your mind, to grow roots in your heart. You may recognize it as truth, and truth is almost always a relief. You may begin to feel that rather than benching you, it puts you on exactly the right playing field, where you suddenly understand the game.

Say it a few more times. Say it like its no big deal because it isn’t any more. You will begin to hear an echo.

My kid has special needs, too!

You may find that the echo is coming from people that you’d far rather spend time with than the Mandarin-drilling Tiger Moms anyway. You may find that you’re proud to be among this new group of people, that all you had been waiting for was to feel less alone, and now you do. And while it is not all fixed, you have something better than fixed: you have hope.

These were my traffic thoughts this morning. How remarkably different from three years ago, when I used to drive around literally cursing at God. I am so grateful to the special needs community- the parents, the therapists, the educators, the kids. They have given me a life far richer than the one I imagined, when I first envisioned being a mom.

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9 thoughts on “On Special Needs…

  1. Labels suck. People who assume things based on labels suck. Do whatever you can to support your child as s/he moves from his own Point A to his own Point B. That’s the only “game” that matters. I guess your point was to embrace the special needs label. I agree in seeking and taking support wherever you find it. But, in general, just stay focused on helping your kid and not worrying about what anyone else calls his or her challenges.

  2. Yes. This. Right there with ya. I have come to feel so incredibly grateful that our family’s path has not looked the way we originally assumed it would. We have been changed by it, and what I once railed against God for I can now say is the thing in the world I’m the most thankful for.

  3. As a (2nd grade) teacher, I am in love with this post. I wish more parents had an understanding that support, love and acceptance are all your child needs to be successful in education and life. I have seen so many parents struggle with the term special needs, but the world of difference when they begin to understand how important the additional accommodations and support are to help their child grow. Raising children isn’t a competition, they’re little individuals just like we are!

  4. My 5-year-old has severe ADHD, and behavior issues. I’m so glad we got her diagnosed young. Her dad has it too, and his formative years were hellacious because his parents had their heads in the sand. Personaly, I think exceptional kids are the ones who wind up changing the world. My daughter may wind up a motorcycle riding circus daredevil, and I think that would be awesome if it makes her happy.

  5. Yes. I am a mom to 3 SN girls from Ethiopia. I’ve determined in my years of being a mom and an elementary teacher, every child is special needs in some way, shape or form. Those tiger moms trying to keep up with the Jones’s are not my tribe. YOU are my people!

  6. Beautiful, poignant and real. I have 3 little ones of my own and admit I can be one of those Tiger moms, but your post brought tears to my eyes because all we ever really need in this world is love and connection. Glad you are giving and getting it.

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