My first exposure to special needs was when I was quite small. My mother taught at a school for the blind. I remember visiting that school as I grew up. When I graduated from high school, I worked at a home for young adults with cerebral palsy. They had differing degrees of disabilities, but they were bright, creative, and fun. Since then, I've taught two young men in wheelchairs.
My heart is especially touched by the families around special needs children. You don’t think you deserve recognition, but every day you fight for your children, and I salute you.
This past month I did a completely anonymous survey to find out how parents of children with special needs feel about certain subjects and also ask them a few questions about their children. I’ll share their responses and comments with you. I thank these parents for their transparency and for taking the time to complete my survey. Twenty-two parents participated. Here’s what I asked and how they answered:
Q How many special needs children do you have?
A One—73% Two—18% More than two—9%
Q What kind of special need does your child have? Choose all that
apply. (There were no blind or deaf children.)
A Mental (including encephalitis, autism, damage, tumors, etc.)—82%
Physical (including those caused by accidents, medical procedures, amputations, birth defects, etc.)—32%
Emotional, including caused by physical or mental illness—36%
Q At what age did your child’s challenge become evident?
A Birth—23% Infancy—23% Age 1-12—50% Age 13+ 9%
Q Please check any sentence with which you agree:
- My special child is one of the biggest blessings of my life. 82%
- I have grown stronger as a person because of my special child. 95%
- I would never have chosen this path for my life. 32%
- This is the most difficult thing that has ever happened to me. 32%
Q How has your life changed because of your special child? (Check all that apply.)
- His/Her care takes much time and effort. 73%
- It is very expensive to get him/her the care that he/she needs. 27%
- Our family has rallied around this child. 68%
- This child has brought us more joy than we ever thought possible. 59%
- I have become a medical expert, trying to help my child in the best way possible. 64%
Q What reactions from others bother your special child the most? (Mark all that apply.)
- Indifference. People look the other way. 27%
- Curiosity. People stare. 18%
- When people ignore him/her and ask you questions. 27%
- When people ask him/her what is wrong. 32%
- When people criticize. 68%
Q As a special needs parent, what would your advice be to others. (Check all that apply.)
- Try to treat my child like any other child. 64%
- Do not misjudge my child when he cannot control his behavior. 73%
- If you have a question about my child, ask me in private, not in front of my child. 64%
- Let your children play with my child. 77%
- Laugh with my child and not at him. 45%
- Make the effort to understand my child’s issues so that you can be his friend. 77%
- Don’t feel sorry for me. 59%
- Don’t pity my special child or his siblings. 64%
- I want everyone to understand the very special gift this child is in our family. 77%
Parents' comments. (Note: I edited some responses to ensure anonymity and for clarity.)
“My child is an adult. He became a paraplegic at thirteen years old, and it has been hard for the family. God is good and provided our every need. He is still in a wheelchair and is now a lawyer.”
“To special needs parents: let people ask whatever questions they have and don't be offended. How could they 'know better,' never having been in your shoes? . . . God didn't give me a special child because I am special. Things just are the way they are. I love my child as much as you love yours, and if yours had autism, God would give you the grace to deal with it, as He has for me. I'm truly not special. I'm just a mom.”
“Understand that ‘looking normal’ is not the same as being normal. Some disabilities are invisible.”
“Our child had major learning issues that did not come to light until she started school. Her problem does not present itself physically in any way, so it is frustrating when people get impatient with her for not being able to do a simple task that she has never done. People can be very critical.”
“Don't underestimate what my child understands or is capable of doing.”
“Please don't mock special needs people. One of the hardest things for me is that my child has a rare speech disorder. Due to that, you have to talk a certain way to him. Sometimes, people think my child is naughty, but this is due to the fact that he shuts down when spoken to a certain way.”
“Remember I am not so strong and a super mom because of my special child. I covet your prayers.”
What can we glean from the responses?
- The great majority of parents who responded to my survey see their children as a huge blessing. They feel they have grown stronger because of their special needs child. Their care takes much time, effort, and study.
- Special needs children aren’t as bothered when people stare at them or ignore them. What hurts most is criticism.
- Parents would like for others to make the effort to understand their child. They want to answer your questions and for you to befriend their special child.
- Those parents who commented said they wish that people understood that not all disabilities are obvious. Some children look normal but have very real issues. People need to be more sensitive, kind, and discerning. It’s quite okay to talk to the child’s parent in order to better understand the child’s issues.
- These parents don’t think they’re heroes. They see themselves as parents doing their job.
- Parents of special needs children want and need your prayers.
Throughout the Bible, God shows that He cares for those who have special needs. Many times, they’re categorized (poor, needy, fatherless, and widows). I am thankful that God hears their pleas and that He cares for them. May we do the same!
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst,
I the LORD will hear them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
(Isaiah 41:17, emphasis mine)