The 4 Best Things About Being a Special Needs Parent
by Shannon Aronin on June 2nd, 2015

1. Other Special Needs Parents
Sadly, these days it seems you can’t throw a stick without hitting another family affected by a child with special needs. The increase in autism and ADHD are the biggest culprits but there are a lot more kids with issues out there than there were when I was a kid. Yes, sometimes people stare, or make a variety or rude or bizarre comments. But with so many special needs children out there, eventually you start to find your village. And what a village it is!

Special needs parents are without a doubt the most amazing group of people you could ever meet. Let me be clear, none of us are heroes, and none of us would choose for our children to have disabilities. No, the real magic is that the strength special needs parenting takes makes you better. It’s not that God only gives you what you can handle, it’s that having a special needs child is like having a personal trainer to strengthen your shoulders and carry your cross.

So now you have these Hulk like shoulders to carry problems, and you see someone else who hasn’t yet been to the gym much less met your personal trainer. Are you going to let them keep floundering? NO! And another special needs parent is just as unlikely to leave you in the lurches. This is a ready-made community that understands meltdowns and doesn’t assume you are a bad parent when they happen. These are people who understand the complete and utter exhaustion special education creates. These are the people who get it.

2. You are MORE grateful, not less
Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing (we do like guilt), but it could always be worse. That’s not to say your problems aren’t important or even devastating. But how big of a deal is a tough IEP meeting when someone else’s child didn’t come home at all today? How bad is that meltdown when someone else’s child had chemo today?

The whole experience gives you better perspective and a much better ability to identify first world problems. I’m sorry your neurotypical child didn’t get placed with the teacher you want. Neither did mine, I have to see her all year at IEPs, and he has been denied services because mental health professionals needed the DSM-5 to be novel. Instead I’m going to remember that it could always be worse. And then I’m going to stare down the neurotypical kid’s mom until she realizes she just said something stupid.

3. You laugh more
Funny thing about being tested on the daily is you learn that you MUST laugh in order to survive. Sometimes that laughter may seem inappropriate. Sometimes it’s nervous laughter. I think we need a new category -- survival laughter. Survival laughter is when you see a situation so absurd or ridiculous that you literally must laugh or cry. For example, there is poop on the walls. That’s either really funny or tragic. But if you cry, you might fall down into a rabbit hole of depression and spiral out of control. So for the love of all that is holy, laugh, please laugh. And you know what? It’s ok to laugh about your child’s disability. Not at them, not for being different, but sometimes literal interpretations are hysterical. Sometimes your spouse or you have a truly hysterical reaction to a head shaking moment. Sometimes a school official says something so off base about your kid you ask, out loud, “Are you kidding me?” and start laughing at them. Did I mention that a lot of this laughter might be deemed inappropriate?

4. You are so very human
When you are lucky enough to get a break, you will skip gleefully away for a few minutes until you are racked with guilt for being happy to be away. You will yell at your child for something they cannot control. In our case this is the hardest thing for me because even with test results showing me exactly what is broken in Boo’s brain and technically understanding some of the things he can’t do, it’s still maddening. The level of permanent cognitive dissonance it takes to raise a child who can do algebra but can’t dress themselves without assistance can be mind melting. It is, and I imagine will continue to be, very hard to remain patient in the face of dramatic asynchrony. At any given time I have to figure out what diagnosis I am working with in that moment or is he just being 7? The challenge with diagnosing mental illness in children is that mental illness so closely resembles childhood. With mine I then have to determine his mental age right that moment. Usually I am looking at 3, 7, 13 or 30.

You don’t always bond with other special needs parents, laugh more, or be more grateful. Sometimes you suck, because that is the human condition. You are no more perfect than any other parent and yet it is easy to feel like our mistakes are somehow worse, amplified and magnified. They aren’t. They are only the mark of your humanity. You aren’t the perfect mother. It’s ok, the perfect mother is a judgey bitch, you don’t want to be her anyway. And the perfect mother never had a child with special needs either.

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