Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane.
I held my breath as I looked at the list. Every single item. It described him to the T. How had I never known? Wordlessly, I slid the laptop over to my husband. His eyes widened as he scrolled down, just as amazed.
You mean, this is a thing?
There’s a name for this? And it’s legit?
Relief and grief often go hand-in-hand. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed with relief, finally freed from the crippling belief that all my son’s challenges were the result of my own inadequacies.
Terrible handwriting? Clearly my fault. Can’t tie shoes? My failure. Strange social behavior? My mess-up.
Lack of eye-contact, emotional maturity, empathy and a dozen other “typical” behavioral benchmarks?
But now, here, with one word I was freed from this Mommy-guilt prison.
His challenges weren’t my fault. This … was a thing.
Then, of course there was also grief. Online research can be helpful and horrible, and there were plenty of worst-case scenarios out there to make me imagine a grim future for my boy.
There was a also a bit of grief in swallowing my pride. I’ve always avoided labels, leaned toward unconventional methods, bucked against etiquette and social norms, and boasted in our delight-directed, do-our-own-thing style of school.
Deep down, I assumed a lot of these A-diagnoses (allergies, autism, Aspergers, ADHD) were merely figments of fretting parents’ imaginations.
If we relaxed a bit and let our kids eat bugs and go barefoot, I figured they’d probably be fine.
But there was no denying this was a thing, and no amount of barefoot, Wild-and-Free homeschooling would change the fact that this kid had special challenges.
While I’m now a firm believer in the legitimacy of the autism-spectrum, I also believe that every child has special needs.
In fact, most of us are probably on the spectrum somewhere. *smile*
Although our son is quirky, I can still trace most of his behavior to my husband or myself, and our parents. It just seems that all of our tiny streams of Asperger-ish tendencies were all funneled together into one gloriously unique little boy, who baffles and dazzles us daily.
For us, the challenges are primarily in two areas:
From day one, playdates were a nightmare. Starting with our son’s toddler-days, chaotic social situations quickly caused melt-downs. Instead, he would gravitate toward encyclopedic-books, documentaries, and adult-interaction. He clearly could not comprehend the unspoken social-norms that his peers naturally understood.
I found myself constantly explaining: “When the girl is crying that means you need to stop chasing her. When that person walks away it means they want to be done talking. When someone is hurt you need to stop and say, ‘Are you ok?'”
Emotionally, things can go south fast, over unpredictable things. He has gone ballistic over the trauma of a haircut. His emotional attachment to things is intense.
When his favorite garden hose sprung a leak and broke, he sobbed, overwhelmed and disillusioned with life, lamenting that he’d never use another garden hose as long as he lived.
He forms intense emotional attachments with cardboard boxes, certain pillows, his carseat (he might be the first kid to drive a car while sitting in a carseat).
The other challenge is widely scattered skills. On the one hand, his reading comprehension is sky-high. He has read hundreds of books. He owns 38 encyclopedias and has read them all cover to cover. His knowledge of science and history is astounding.
But his handwriting is barely legible, and I’m not sure if he’ll ever spell well. So our main challenge with homeschooling is discerning how to capitalize on his strengths while still working on his weaknesses, without a heap of tears.
This year I had to deal with my tendency to become angry with him over these areas of weakness, coupled with his emotional immaturity. I am constantly having to slow down and carefully determine when to push him and when to back off. I’m always praying for wisdom!
Sure, I’ve cried more over this boy than over any other thing in all my life. He has brought to the surface every fear and insecurity, every weakness and selfish tendency.
He can push my buttons like nobody’s business, but his unique make-up has also been an incredible blessing. And since every child has special needs, I believe every child’s special needs are also a special blessing.
Here are some blessings my son has brought my way:
Forcing me to forget what people think
For all my supposed disregard for social norms, I still care a lot what people think.
The truth is, it often feels embarrassing to have a child who looks normal, but behaves bizarrely.
Plus, I still like to avoid labels, and although we have talked openly with our son about this “trait” (we like this term better than “syndrome” because we firmly believe his uniqueness is as much as a strength as it is a challenge), I still rarely share this with others.
My fierce love for him has forced me to care less about what others think and more about what really matters.
Forcing me to tailor-make our own home-education
There’s just no nice-and-neat boxed curriculum that’s going to work with this kid.
We’ve done a lot of trial and error. Mostly error.
I shudder when I think back to my over-eager self pushing him into My Father’s World kindergarten curriculum when he was barely three-years-old.
Now, five years later, we’ve settled into our own messy hodge-podge curriculum concoction that I like to call Classical Unschool. I’m fairly certain the founders of both those movements would never claim us as their followers, but it works for us!
Our homeschool is neither Pinteresty nor neat-and-tidy. I still find myself frustrated a lot. But this special child is gloriously unique and I know I am a better person because his quirkiness has caused me to grow.
He is thriving (and learning to spell!), has a few close friends who he loves deeply, and drinks up knowledge like no one I’ve ever known.
Yes, this has been the hardest part of my homeschool, but it is an incredible privilege to be his mama.
I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
How have your child’s Special Needs been a Special Blessing to you?
This post is part of our Hardest Part of my Homeschool Year series.