As a father of three children, I enjoy my children’s accomplishments and milestones each and every step of the way. When two of those children have special needs each of those accomplishments and milestones becomes that much more special.
Of my three children my eldest daughter at 11 is NT or neurotypical, the other two children, our son at 10 (autism) and our daughter at 5 (ODD, OCD as well as Eye problems originally classed as Dwayne’s syndrome), are special needs.
There are many things about being a special needs parent that is especially enjoyable, but perhaps the most eye opening part of special needs parenting is the realization that every little advancement is such a huge deal and so special because it is so hard fought for.
Our son, for example, can never be unmonitored; he is a proven flight risk and can strike out at any time if proper precautions are not taken. Because of his love for disappearing every security precaution in the house needs to be designed with thought to how easily he will be able to get around it.
So it is a huge bonus to see the bright spots in his advancement. He reads extremely well, he is clearly extremely clever (and that is not just being a father talking) and, while he is not a hugely social person, he does seem to absolutely thrive in the spotlight. His brightest moments are when he presents things to the class (even though he is essentially non-verbal) and other activities where he can be the center of attention or near to it. He even loves to be involved in the school Christmas concerts and other such activities. To see him when the crowd claps for the performance is to understand just how much joy can be shown by an autistic child’s stimming.
This is actually an interesting aspect of autism; stimming is a repetitive action – usually clapping, spinning and flapping – that an autistic person uses to release some of the emotion they have built up inside but have no way to express properly. A child stimming from happiness is a treat to behold for anyone, because the pure joy they show at that point is unbelievable and so clear for everyone to see.
Our daughter with ODD is completely different. There is a childhood poem by Longfellow I remember that describes ODD extremely well.
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
The poem which would have been written in the 1800’s implies that Oppositional Defiance Disorder existed way back then. The thing is, the poem describes our daughter so well. Around the time she was initially diagnosed I remember a series of incidents where she would have a meltdown in the store or at a theme park. I would take her to the car to calm down for the day and often would have to wait over half an hour to buckle her in her car seat because she went entirely rigid. Those incidents have dramatically reduced and the level of upset has been curtailed even when they do happen and that is extremely helpful.
But what makes it so dramatic in the first place is that when she is not having an episode, she is generally one of the happiest and most loving kids I know. Amazingly enough she is also like her brother in the fact that she absolutely loves being the center of attention. In her case she participates in the children’s choir at a local church (we don’t actually attend the church, however our daughters do participate in some of their group activities) and she clearly loves being on stage participating with the other kids. It is perhaps the one area where we have the least problems with her behavior.
The thing that being a parent of special needs children has taught me the most is that no matter how hard things get, it never seems to be more then we can handle. I have always heard that special needs children are handed to those parents who have the ability to properly care for them, and it is something I always dismissed. I still am not sure that is entirely true; instead, my belief is that parents of special needs children rise to the occasion and simply handle the challenge they were given to the best of their abilities.
Special needs parents love unconditionally but, more amazing than that, they are loved unconditionally and that is what gives us the strength to give our children the care and attention they deserve.
Carl Bainbridge is a husband and proud father of three children, who blogs at A Parents Perspective (http://www.aparentsperspective.ca). He writes about his family’s special needs journey and his goal is to help create a better understanding of autism, help identify it, and help those involved in the care of autistics.