I don’t have a child with special needs, but I’m in awe of those who do. Not because parents of special needs children are perfect or super-human (I take that back, they are super-human), but because my friends with special needs children consistently overcome challenges that continually humble and teach me.
Growing up, I had very limited exposure to children with special needs. However, now with a sister-in-law with Cerebral Palsy and several close friends who have special needs children, I’ve been exposed to special needs families and have been taught a lot through example about the core values I need to have as a parent. It’s a book we should all take a page from. So, as an outsider to the world of special needs, here is one person’s perspective on the values we should all learn from these amazing people.
RESILIENCE. I can’t imagine finding out your child has a special need and all that that entails. The learning curve and the adjustment are far more than I could ever appreciate. That said, one of the most amazing things I’ve noticed in parents of special needs children is a deep resilience that develops despite the challenges faced. It’s something that I need more of. A spirit of “we’ll get through this no matter what” that drives through life’s ups and downs. It reminds us that we’re all capable of much more than we think we are.
LOVE EVEN WHEN. I love my children dearly, but there are those days. But parents of special needs kids have demonstrated to me an undying love that always moves on from the rough patches with no baggage, knowing that consistent love can and does pull us through anything. Our kids need us to forget the fight we had with them the day before and give them the benefit of a fresh page. Again. And again. And again. It’s called patience and graciousness, and our children won’t learn it if we don’t demonstrate it.
ACCEPTENCE. 20/20 Medical Mysteries recently aired a story about Carly Fleischmann, a severely autistic14-year-old girl who has begun communicating through typing. While on the outside she is severely autistic, her communication has revealed a normal teenage girl with a wicked sense of humor. She writes, “I am autistic, but that is not who I am. It is hard because no one understands me. People look at me and assume I am dumb because I can’t speak. People get a lot of their information from so-called experts, but if a horse is sick, you don’t ask a fish what’s wrong with the horse. You go right to the horse’s mouth.” Carly’s parents’ experience reinforces that we need to love and accept our children despite initial outward appearances. All of our children are wonderful creatures who bring joy to our lives if we only listen to and love them for who they are. (I would urge you to go online, search for ‘carly fleischmann 2020,’ and watch the episode; it’s powerful!)
CREATING CHANGE. Probably the hardest fight I’ve seen parents with special needs children take on is the fight against systems that work against them. School systems, medical systems, legal systems – there are so many crushing obstacles, I can’t even begin to count them all. The hard and simple fact is the world is not set up for special needs kids. Thanks to many determined parents, that is changing. But all of us need to fight for smarter laws and more informed policies, and we must embody a more accepting society.
Image credit: Rachel Groves
Ben Murphy, founder of The Father Life, is an Adventure Athlete, Writer, and Wellness Advocate who used to be obese. You can ask him your questions at www.BenMurphyOnline.com. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and three daughters.