Parenting is a tough job. And being a special needs parent brings with it “special” challenges. My days are filled with obstacles most can’t imagine but also victories, large and small, that make being a parent to a special child the most rewarding job I have ever had.
My son Itamar is now 18 and over the years has brought so much joy into my world. Even though I worry about him, knowing that he’s healthy, safe, and happy means that for the most part I’m doing my job well.
Many people smile politely when I tell them I have a son with autism. Others aren’t sure what to say and try to mask their awkwardness with well-intentioned comments. Most of the time people find a kind response, but sometimes they say things that leave me scratching my head.
The truth is most parents don’t enjoy when people comment on their parenting abilities or offer unsolicited advice, and while the same is true for special needs parents, here are five phrases that I hear and suggest you avoid.
“Having a special needs child must be so difficult.”
Special needs parenting requires a lot of personal strength due to the never-ending challenges of raising a fragile special needs child. The littlest change in their environment can easily impact their behavior. All of which can be very emotionally and physically draining.
So the answer to your question is yes, it’s difficult. But it is also a very rewarding experience. I have learned to laugh at the silly little moments we have together, and celebrate every little accomplishment. Rather than focusing on the difficulties try to be encouraging and understanding, try to see the beauty in this very special relationship between parent and child. You can ask me what it’s like to raise a child with special needs; however, don’t assume anything about my child. Children with autism are very different from one another.
“I’m grateful that my child doesn’t have this.”
I am very proud of my child. He is so pure and good, so giving. If you ask him to split a piece of chocolate to share, he won’t think twice. He will never resent you. Never say anything bad about anyone. He is so loving. To me, he isn’t my son with autism, he is simply my son and I love him unconditionally. As a parent, I strive to keep my son in a happy and safe environment. This is something that all parents can relate to.
We can’t choose how our children will turn out, we can only accept them for whom they are. Even though it is a great challenge to raise my child, he has given me much joy, brought our family closer and has taught me to slow down and enjoy precious moments, and never take them for granted. I am grateful for my child and what he brought into my life.
“You need to start thinking of getting him out of the house. He’s growing. You can’t keep him at home forever.”
Some people feel uncomfortable to see how difficult your life is and feel bad they don’t help. They are looking for the easy solution – just get him out of the house… Every day I think about the right path for my son. As he gets older, I worry about his future. The truth is, it’s difficult to plan ahead in a special needs household. The sheer thought of my son leaving the nest is nerve wracking. Even more so, I know that he can never be truly independent.
There are a multitude of options available to help children and adults with special needs get the best possible care. Some even help them with becoming independent. These include everything from health care aids to a range of assistive technology. As concerned and responsible parents, we do our research and consult with other parents and professionals on this matter. Having your special needs child move out of the house is a very sensitive decision that takes years of personal research and planning. It is clearly not a decision that is made lightly.
“I’m so sorry!”
Many people instinctively react with this response after hearing that I have a special needs child, and I understand their sympathy; however, I am not sorry that I am his father.
While I may never attend his wedding or slap him on the back when he gets a huge promotion at work, I will have an eternally affectionate and loving child who will shower me with love.
I cherish my son with all my heart, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. No it isn’t easy, but my son isn’t a burden on my life, he is my life.
“I would never guess there is something wrong with him. He looks just fine to me.”
I find it hard when others categorize my child or even just look at him as a “child with autism” and expect to see specific things. People tend to say this when my child is around, assuming he can’t see that they’re looking at him, can’t hear them and doesn’t understand what they’re saying, which makes it even more difficult for me. Please don’t talk about my child (or any child, for that matter), as if he is not around.
We should all remember that all kids have quirks and idiosyncrasies. In the case of special needs kids, these just tend to be more complicated. But instead of trying to mold special needs kids to fit a set of unrealistic expectations, let’s rather focus on teaching them to cope and thrive in whatever situation they find themselves in.
What’s for certain is that I’m glad you see my child. Really take a long hard look and make sure you notice the twinkle in his eye, his warm smile and the kindness that emanates from him. Then you will see that he is far more than fine, he truly is special.