I have had countless conversations with other moms and dads about the struggles and joys of raising kids. Families that include a child with special needs, whether physical, mental, or emotional, face unusual challenges and have a unique strength that can be hard to wrap your mind around. We even look at each other and wonder how does the other one do it? Disabilities are so different for each person and their families.
In our family, my youngest son, Kody, was diagnosed around the age of three as having an intellectual disability, ADHD, and a speech delay. It was an emotional and difficult time for his father and I. Kody’s disability did not present itself in obvious ways. It was the little things like taking longer to crawl and walk than normal, constantly moving or trying to get away from me in public, not playing with other kids, he was impulsive, screaming at the top of his lungs in restaurants or other public places but not crying, and horrible tantrums. By age three, he had a vocabulary of less than ten words. The rest of it was literally his own language and you could not understand a word of it. It was frustrating but I never imagined it was due to a disability. Honestly, I thought he was just a hyper little boy challenging authority and that any delay was due to the fact that he had a house full of people doing everything for him because he was the baby of the family. The concerns were there but I was not worried.
I decided to ask our pediatrician a couple of questions about some of Kody’s peculiar behaviors and delays. He suggested that we have him tested. My mother is a special education teacher and after I talked to her about the pediatrician’s recommendation and the concerns I had, she suggested going through the school district for testing. We did not have insurance at the time and this was a practical starting point for us. Sure enough, he qualified for an early intervention program through our school district which was the Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD). Can I just stop for a moment to give a huge shout out to those in the mission field of special education? Thank you for all that you do. Yours is truly a labor of love.
I can remember feeling like someone had just taken a blowtorch to my son’s future and I was terrified. I was angry and sad for him and for us. I had a million questions. How do you parent a child with disabilities? What are the rules? Am I doing everything I am supposed to do for him? Do I discipline him the same way as before? Does he need therapy? Will he get better? Will he get worse? What am I supposed to do for him, Lord? It was overwhelming and I did not want it to be true. I was not the only one. It was a sensitive issue between his father and I. Like I said before, Kody’s disability was not obvious. It was subtle and easy to excuse as defiant behaviors or developmental delays on which he would eventually be able to catch up. His father felt that the diagnosis was premature and would label him for the rest of his life; harming his future and closing doors to opportunities. I had the opposite state of mind. I felt that if we started dealing with the facts now, we could give him every chance to develop his full potential. Looking back, we were both right and we both just wanted what was best for him.
Unfortunately, all too often families are ripped apart because of the strain of having a child with special needs. I hope that if you are a parent or guardian of a child with special needs, that you do not forget to take care of yourself. My husband and I did not divorce because of Kody, but we were not always on the same page and it did add stress to our relationship. I encourage couples to seek wise counsel and support for your marriage before considering divorce. Trust the Lord with your family. He knew what He was doing when He blessed you with that child.
I know how blessed I am to have my son. Every day is a challenge but it is also a precious gift. We teach each other how to be better human beings. His future will be different than his brothers and sister but it will be just as bright. We are doing everything we can to make sure of that. He has gifts and talents that have a purpose and will serve him well. Though I still worry about what it will look like for him as a grown man, I know that the Lord has him in the palm of His mighty hand and is already working out the details of Kody’s life.
For the families of all children with special needs, God grant us:
Strength to carry their burdens.
Patience to care for their health and wellbeing every minute of every day.
Wisdom to understand their needs and the resources to meet those needs.
Love like Yours to love them right where they are at in good times and in hard times.
Big shoulders to catch their tears when they are let down in this world.
Courage to fight for their rights and give them a place in society.
Enough energy to care for them, our family, and ourselves.
Inspiration to make the most of our time together.
And fill our lives with peace and joy for the journey ahead.