Growing up I hadn’t thought a lot about what if I have child with special needs and I sure wish I had. Not only do I have one child with special needs, but I have two and they are just a little over a year apart! When my middle son (Zac) was diagnosed with Autism I cried, was angry, sad, and scared. I didn’t know what this was going to mean for us and for his siblings but with a lot of determination, I was able to get Zac into Occupational Therapy (OT) and speech at 2 ½ for early intervention therapy. Fast-forward to now, he is nine and quite a handful (adding some cognitive psychosis to his original diagnosis) but such a joy to raise.
Having the words “special needs” in your family can mean so many different things. For us, it means that we always have to think differently to each situation. We can’t just go out as a family without a lot of preparation and thought. We have to think about how it will affect my son, but sometimes even more importantly how will the outing affect his siblings. Some days can be difficult just to go to take Zac to the grocery store. Other days, we can be out all day doing all sorts of fun things. Travel has become a huge issue, as he has gotten older. Zac really needs structure and calmness in his world and travel doesn’t really allow for that. On our last “family vacation”, Zac cried daily for hours, had tantrums at restaurants, and kept his siblings up at night. When we were walking on the plane to head home he punched me in the face. I thought the flight attendant wasn’t going to let us on the plane and that’s when the decision was made that we may have to start leaving him home with a caregiver from time to time. It was very difficult when we decided to leave him home. I thought my heart was going to break, but with the support of a good friend and Zac’s therapist we were able to make that difficult decision and my other 2 children were able to have a stress free vacation for the very first time.
On the complete flip side of things, because we have “special needs” in our lives, we are so much more understanding and patient with things that arise in our lives. Especially, because there is so much that can’t be controlled. Autism has taught all of us to appreciate the small things and not worry so much about everything else. It has taught us to have empathy and compassion and never take anything for granted. My oldest son has learned that he has a special gift with working with children with learning disabilities and special needs and feels so successful when he is able to help. My daughter learned at such a young age that Zac did things differently and she adapted quickly. She helps him with his words and taught him how to play with toys. She is so patient and even reminds me from time to time what I need to do to help him.
So for us, special needs does mean special challenges BUT these special challenges have enriched all of our lives on so many levels.