Having a child who is differently-abled can be challenging and can test your limits, and your confidence, as a parent. When my son was diagnosed with Autism in 2012 and then my daughter with ADHD in 2018, one of the immediate thoughts I had was if this was somehow my fault; if through some mistake during my pregnancy, I had caused my children to labeled with these conditions for life. Albeit, it was a negative point of view; of course, it wasn’t my fault. And besides that, there was nothing wrong with my children. They just needed to figure out how to live their lives with their diagnosis without their diagnosis being in control of how they live their lives.
In the years since we’ve been living under the IEP and the 504 plans, with the evaluations and the therapies, I have found that despite the stress that accompanies, and the time that it takes, to parent differently-abled children it can also make you a much better human. Here are the 8 ways my differently-able kiddos have made me a better person.
- I am more organized. I was born under the Virgo sun and as such, I have a way of being pretty organized, or at least sure of what I want. Having children with special needs forces you to be organized, be a more efficient planner, and improves your multi-tasking skills. My planner is my best friend and doesn’t leave my side. I am sure to schedule everything to ensure that my children’s extra-curricular activities peacefully coexist alongside their medical and therapeutic appointments. I also have an organizational eye when it comes to maintaining the home. My kids tend to get frustrated very quickly, especially when they are unable to find something. I am obsessed with ensuring my home is kept neat and that things are in their places at all times. This helps to prevent tantrums and meltdowns, and alleviates stress for me.When I’m organized, I am better able to teach them organizational skills that is imperative for focus, attention, and emotional regulation.
- I am learning patience. I was always of the understanding that if you weren’t born with much patience, there is no way you can attain more of it. This statement could not be further from the truth. One thing that I take everyday from parenting differently-abled children is the chance to be patient, not only with them, but with myself and with others who may not be as educated about my kiddos’ conditions. It takes patience to wait on referrals to come through from the doctor. It takes patience to wait on availabilities for initial evaluations and appointments. It takes patience to get on and then remain on multiple wait-lists for services. It takes patience when your child struggles to complete a task or homework assignment. If I know one thing, it’s that often times when we pray or ask for patience, it can manifest in such a way wherein you will experience situations in which you will learn patience. And there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.
- I am evolving my parenting style. We are due to become our parents. It’s just the way it goes. And it begins when we have children of our own. We tend to do and say the same stuff that our parents did and said when we were growing up. And it can be hard to stray from that, especially if those beliefs, values, and tendencies are ingrained in us. I believe this is the most challenging part of parenting differently-abled children because we cannot hold on the way we were raised the main ingredient of our parenting style. My son’s Autism manifests itself in such a way where he needs constants reminders of the same thing, throughout each and every day. This has been a struggle for me because I hate repeating myself, and I was raised in a household where my mother and father did not want to have to repeat themselves more than once; if I said I understood what they said, then that was that. There was no need to repeat. I was forced to change this thinking because my son processes information differently. He needs reminders because it is what helps him be successful. I will do whatever adjusting I need to do so that he can be successful. That’s the most important thing.
- I am more empathetic. My children have made me so much more empathetic. Of course, growing up with do that too, but I am so much more sensitive to their needs and to the differences of my fellow human brothers and sisters, because I am a parent to children who need a little more accommodations than their neuro-typical peers. I have learned how to talk and communicate more effectively with my children so that they feel more encouraged to communicate their feelings and their thoughts. I have also been motivated to learn more about not only their conditions, but the conditions of other special needs children. The knowledge that I acquire better help me encourage other parents who might be going through the diagnosis process themselves. It especially served me well when I was an assistant director for a child development center in Colorado. I had the opportunity to interact with young children and their families everyday and provide education for those parents whose children were exhibiting signs of developmental delays. These first few years are critical to recognizing when a child may need a little extra support and parents can use all the encouragement, and education, they can to be the best advocates for their child. My experience has allowed me to be that empathetic voice for those parents in times of uncertainty and fear.
- I am more courageous. I do not like confrontation. I tend to avoid conflict whenever possible. It’s a stressor for me. However, there are times when as a parent you have to put on your witches hat and remind some folks who they are dealing with. This is especially true for parents with differently-abled children. If a child is in school, more than likely, he or she has some sort of legal document outlining what the disability is and what kind of accommodation might best support that child in a classroom setting. Unfortunately, school funding, or just a lack of resources, teacher education, empathy, etc, can affect if these accommodations are given at all. It is important for parents of differently-abled kiddos to be armed with knowledge of the law, the child’s documentation, and their child’s needs so that he or she is be equipped the tools he or she needs to succeed in the classroom. If it is not happening, then parents must be prepared to fight, even if it’s not quite their cup of tea. It also take courage to be an advocate; to spot where there needs to be a change in a law or even spotting an inequality in everyday life (the set-up of older buildings). Special needs parenting needs to be ready to fight for the rights of their children at any given notice and without pumping the brakes because of fear. Fear cannot be in our vocabulary.
- I am less controlling. Control is a good thing. It makes us feel powerful. It makes us feel strong. And it ensures that stuff gets done. But too much control can make the other people around us feel a little more insecure in trusting you to trust them. This has been my problem for like most of my life. I like to be in control. And it has dictated much of the choices I have made thus far. Having children with special needs has forced me to let go of the reins a bit, which has been quite therapeutic for me. My kids need a schedule and a routine but they also thrive when they are allowed to make their own choices and choose their own experiences. I am there for guidance of course, but with the reins loosened, my kids are encouraged to explore and experience things for themselves, which is crucial for helping them learn more about, and embrace, the very things that make them so special.
- I am more confident. It is common for mothers to doubt their parental skills. It’s a thankless job, and often times we go to bed wondering if we did enough… if we were enough. This is especially true for parents of children with special needs. I have learned to be more confident in how I parent and how I conduct my life because my children are extra vigilant of every move I make. Once my children received their diagnosis, I was motivated to do everything I could to earn about their diagnosis and educate myself on what they needed to succeed. This has given me the confidence to go into any meeting, any doctor’s appointment, or therapeutic evaluation. I am armed with the knowledge I need to go into any situation and fight for my kiddos. And a mother with knowledge and confidence is a mother able to do just about anything. When momma exudes confidence, then her children learn how to be confident and do their absolute best, even when others say that it’s impossible. This is a skill that’s especially important when kiddos are easily frustrated by difficult tasks.
Confidence is what allows me to improve on the good qualities that make be an overall better human. And that can only be attributed to these little ones I call my children.