Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and writer at Steady Mom
Over a decade ago, I had the extraordinary honor of working with special needs children in both schools and homes. I mainly helped them and their families in whatever way I could, and did my best to shower a little extra love their way. I worked with some children who were severely disabled, a child with cerebral palsy, a child with ADHD, and children with autism.
I both loved and feared this work. Loved it–because I felt like I was making a difference in the lives of these families and learning so much at the same time.
Feared it–because in the back of my mind I wondered if maybe God was preparing me for something. Like one day he was going to “make” me have a child with special needs of my own.
Warped, I know.
It turns out He didn’t make me, instead He made me want a child with special needs. Want to adopt one, to be exact. My husband and I, with some fear, but a bit of faith too, chose it–and the child God brought in His wisdom is our daughter Trishna.
My girl, soon after coming home at the age of four. Isn’t she gorgeous? Photo by pennybird
Trishna is creative, talented with words, and loves books and writing. (Just. like. me! Isn’t God amazing?!)
She is also visually impaired and developmentally delayed by the fact that she spent the first four years of her life in an orphanage in India.
The experience of adopting an older child with special needs has enlarged my world and expanded my borders. It has also, at times, brought me crippled to the floor with grief, overwhelm, and heartbreak.
And so I completely understand why a fellow homeschooling mama with multiple special needs children recently sent me a message, giving me a peek into the window of her discouragement. Adding home education on top of an already full plate has piled more responsibility on her sweet and fragile shoulders, and the weight seems too much to bear.
Here are a few points that have lightened my load and helped me maintain perspective while homeschooling (& parenting) a child with special needs:
1. All kids have special needs.
I agree with author Kim John Payne of Simplicity Parenting, who writes that “all kids are quirky.” So true!
One of my children may have an official diagnosis, but I also have a child who tends to be shy, and another who loves (sometimes too much) to be in charge. Viewed a certain way, these are also special needs–qualities, be they strengths or weaknesses, unique to each individual.
2. There is no such thing as a perfect child (or adult).
We cannot accomplish, nor should we try, to raise kids without issues. Issues, and the overcoming of them, is one of life’s greatest and most important exercises. This goes for our kids who are typically developing or differently-abled.
Some of our children may have to work hard to control their temper or learn to make friends. Some may use all their inner reserves in the effort to walk, feed, or dress themselves. Either way, a celebration is in order when our children emerge as victors over life’s challenges.
3. It does not rest on my shoulders to “fix” my child or fulfill all her needs.
I can’t go back and undo my daughter’s four years in an institution. I can’t compensate for what she lacked when I wasn’t there–or its effect on our present-day lives.
But often I wish I could alter what is and make up for what was.
Inevitably, when I mentally or emotionally try to shoulder this responsibility, I feel burdened and overwhelmed. I get this sense most when I use my faith in reverse and worry about the future for Trishna or any of my children.
Fear and worry don’t help me or anyone I love.
4. What’s best for our child will also be best for our family.
Divorce rates for couples with special needs children reach a staggering 80-90 percent.
Of course we will and should sacrifice to meet our kids’ needs. But in the midst of juggling therapies, surgeries, other children, and a marriage, we must remember that what is best for our child should also work for our families.
What is my responsibility, then? What should I do for my special needs child(ren)?
- love and nurture–without expectation, but just because it’s the right thing to do
- open the door to the world for her (This is where home education plays such a vital part!)
- trust God with all of my kids and their futures
- pray when I notice a need, expecting God to guide and give inspiration
- respond when He does–whether that means therapy, surgery–or stopping therapy or canceling a surgery (timing matters!)
- believe that there is a plan, and that it is a good one
I have plenty of “special needs” of my own: I don’t like big crowds, I get overwhelmed easily, I hate talking on the phone, and so much more. Yet amazingly God uses me–in my family and in this world. I know that He has a calling for my babes too, no matter what their needs or uniquenesses.
And so I start again each day, whether golden moments of encouragement dawn or the dreariness of the discouraging slaps me in the face. Through my many inadequacies, I can say this without reservation:
I’m showing up. Holding out all my brokenness, my neediness, my multitude of imperfections to my children–who are holding out theirs to me.
All of us thriving in our own ways and time. All of us with purpose and mission.
All of us with special needs.
If you have a child with special needs, I’d love to hear about what you’ve found helpful in your journey of homeschooling and family life.