Having a child who struggles is not all that common. Many people don't quite understand what a challenge it is as parents to find out your child has "special needs." Although this is primarily from mine and my husband's limited experiences, it is my hope that I might be able to help someone out there like me by putting those new experiences into words.
When we had our first boy, it was so easy to love and parent him. Our first boy is without question a "type A."He certainly isn't perfect, but he is naturally good at almost everything, and has a strong desire to please. Parenting him was new and fun and made us feel like pros. After all, he was a perfectionist just like I was! Having another child was a no-brainer.
Having our second boy was just as fun as the first. It was so interesting to see all the ways that God made him a unique and wonderful person! When he was born the Man and I had so many dreams of what he could be!
To a degree, every parent has to adjust expectations based on who their kids become. As parents we expected to have our plans for him change over time. What we didn't expect, however, was that the boy we loved so much would struggle with things that come naturally to everyone else. As much as he loved to use his healthy legs, being labeled a "slow learner" was like something he couldn't out-run. At first, my husband and I were determined to help him fight it and to catch him up as fast as possible. But the more we learned about him, the more out of reach that goal seemed.
When I say we are constantly learning how to be new parents, I mean we are learning to let go of our desire to catch him up and "be normal." It can be a horribly bitter pill to swallow to have to lower your expectations for your children, but it was a necessary and humbling experience.
I know, I know. We "shouldn't care what other people think." But friends, you would be surprised at how much that phrase doesn't make a difference in the face of hardship. It is so easy to tell ourselves not to care, but putting it into practice is another matter.
When the second boy was young and unable to care for himself just like every other baby and toddler, I didn't notice a problem. I occasionally had a feeling that something wasn't right but wrote it off as paranoia for a while. It wasn't until his problems began to set him apart from his peers that I pushed for answers. Others had begun to approach me and mention the same thing and at this point I started to feel it.
As wrong as it feels to say it, my son's lack of ability in basic things was now very noticeable, and I was embarrassed by it. Now we would go out to a park, the library, or to visit Daddy at work and people would stare at us when he had a meltdown over not being understood. We would send him to Sunday school and sometimes have to get pulled out of our class to deal with a dirty pull-up or a poor attitude. And every time something that happens draws the attention of people, I am inclined to explain his situation and why he is struggling with things.
This might one might sound a bit silly, but after a childhood worth of jokes referring to the "short bus" and "special needs" it can be a challenge to try to adopt the phrase. Doctors have not diagnosed our boy with anything specific, but that's not to say it will never happen. Right now it is referred to as "severe speech delays," "seizure activity," and "across-the-board delays." This can be a blessing and a curse. On one side, it is nice to have "safe" words to fall back on instead of an umbrella term and it gives us the hope that he will eventually overcome them. On the other side, it is becoming more and more difficult to explain to people who ask what his problem really is. I could go through every tiny problem that adds up to larger issues, or I could use the term "special needs."
If you are talking to me and the topic of my second boy comes up, I can feel my hackles rising. One thing I have learned through this process is that everyone has an opinion and a "right" way to deal with it. Often times, when I share that we are going to home school our child so that I can give him the focused effort he needs, I am immediately preparing to defend our decision. I am aware that not everyone will understand or agree with me. The problem arises when I decide to try to help them understand.
This doesn't just apply to home schooling. If we are talking about child rearing, accomplishment, growth, or anything to do with my second boy I am inclined to stick up for him. I don't want his delays to define him as incapable of doing anything meaningful.
If I do seem defensive, I promise I am not mad at you. I just want my son to be treated like everyone else.
I know this simple group of four wont cover everyone's experience when discovering that their child has special needs. My primary desire is simply to help others to understand this experience a bit better and to help parents like us put their thoughts into words.
If you have a child with special needs or have experience with these emotions, how did you overcome them? Are there any that you think I missed? I would love to hear from you!