What I Have Learned As A Parent of Children with Special Needs

When I first became a #parent, over 30 years ago, I had an idea of what that would look like. I had always wanted to be a mother. To raise children to be conscientious, caring and happy human beings while providing them the unconditional love, confidence, wisdom and support they would need and I would enjoy sharing. Most of my teen years were spent doing a lot of babysitting. I enjoyed spending time with the children I looked after, finding fun things to do while keeping them safe and engaged while their parents had time to complete whatever they needed. I also became a preschool assistant teacher while going to college. A job I truly enjoyed. Taking care of all those kids through the years I learned a great deal about the ways children are different and the need to be flexible in caring for them.

In my early 20's I became a mom for the first time. My sweet daughter, now my oldest child, came into the world nearly by force. She surely didn't make delivery easy. But as most mom's will tell you, the pain of delivery some of us experience soon fades from your memory and all you remember or care about is your precious little child. As I cradled her in my arms that day, all I could think about was how blessed I was. I couldn't wait to raise her and watch her grow into a wonderful woman.

Through her toddler years Nicole demonstrated such intelligence and enthusiasm. But I also saw characteristics that, while not completely out of the ordinary for children her age, were magnified in her and presented some challenges at home and later at school. Emerging into elementary school her teachers and I started to see signs of what appeared to be attention issues. She was very intelligent yet seemed distracted, disengaged and struggled to sit still. One day during a meeting her teacher told me a story. Each day in circle time the teacher would read the students a book, expecting them to sit, listen and answer questions orally when she was done. Daily my daughter would leave the rug and go to another area in the classroom despite constant attempts to get her to stay with peers. By this time the teacher had given up on getting her to sit on the rug. She had resolved to allow the behavior, believing Nicole was not engaged with the story and that circle time was not as important as other instructional opportunities.

One day in particular, when my daughter was at the back of the class, the teacher ask the students for the details and moral of the story. Much to the teachers surprise, my daughter suddenly recapped the entire story and provided the moral. Each time she had left the rug is was assumed she was not listening or learning. However, on that day it became clear to the teacher Nicole had been listening and learning all along. Situations like this as well as other concerns, led me to have assessments completed which provided a diagnosis of #ADHD and a very high cognitive ability. While ADHD is the main path we walked for most of her life, we out found much later in her life there were other considerations as well, to include #Aspergers. But despite the challenges faced, Nicole is settled into a life she loves and a job that allows her the creativity she is so blessed with. In the coming weeks she will be joining me for a Q&A and advice article right here on my #blog.

Several years later I had two more children, bringing my child rearing experiences to three. At the age of about 5-6 years, my second child began to show signs of struggles. For 3 years I had no idea what was troubling him, until a friend of mine whose son had received a diagnosis, mentioned that her child had been exhibiting the same behaviors. At the time we were living in Europe where my husband was stationed with the US Army. When we returned to the states shortly after, I began to look into the area my friend had mentioned. After much research, an unexpected #military move, and several assessments, I finally had a diagnosis and an answer #Aspergers. The skill set and tools I had used for my oldest, were in some instances the same, but there were areas of focus for my second child that we had not know to apply to my daughter when she was young. After years of imploring techniques, tools and skills to assist me as a parent and to teach my child how to assist himself, he is thriving and working very hard in college to attain the dreams and plans he has for his future. His potential and ability to learn is exceptional and recently I found that it far exceeds even the high level it was assessed at before.

A mere 18 months after my second child was born my last child entered the world. She arrived very early on a cool fall morning while her father was deployed to Iraq. She was characteristic of her two siblings, in that she was close to two weeks past typical 40. She brought with her the sunshine and ease I needed during a very stressful time. She was an easy baby, slept well and loved to cuddle. Much later we discovered some mild issues no at all like her siblings. She often likes to say she has OLS (Old Lady Syndrome). Because at a very young age she had shingles, currently struggles with joint issues, seems to fatigued easily and has #AutonomicDisorder (once thought to be #POTS). She says this make her feel like an old lady. Which is sort of how I feel these days. The concerns are mild and proper care, tools and skills make it easily manageable. She has blossomed into an amazing young woman and has plans for a bright, exciting future.

I have learned through the years that each child is unique. This applies to children with or without #disabilities or challenges. All people are created with unique strengths, beauty, weaknesses and traits which can be leverage to reach our greatest potential. As parents we help our children meet challenges head on and gather tools and skills to attain the success they want for themselves. If your child faces challenges such as #AutismSpectrumDisorder (#ASD), #ADHD, #DownSyndrome, #Dyslexia or another #disability/#disorder, access all the resources available to you, bring providers on board to help you support your child, and assist each child in accessing and utilizing tools and techniques best suited to their unique needs. Work with the school, as is needed, to provide special education services through an #IEP, support and/or #accommodations (#504Plan) to allow your unique child access to the same general education as their peers and to the life skills necessary for their post-secondary path. Having a #GrowthMindset, teaching your child to have a growth mindset and how to apply it to themselves, can create a positive outlook and determination to reach their potential.

As a mom I have strived to teach my children to make good choices, be kind to and love others, know when they need help or tools and utilize it, learn from their mistakes and get back up and try again. If they get off track and go down the wrong path at some point, they have a foundation to return to when they realize something needs to change. For me it isn't realistic to expect my adult children to conform to all my ideals for them, just as I can't expect a stranger or friend to conform to my expectations. I must accept others for who they are, I must raise my children with the proper values, moral, tools, skills and knowledge to make the right choices for themselves. That doesn't mean when they turn 18 I stop sharing my heart, thoughts and wisdom with them. We mom's know that our 18 year olds are "legal adults", but it doesn't mean they have finished learning and growing. If a child is still growing due to challenges past the age of 18, then all the more need to keep teaching and supporting. My job as a mom is to raise children who are able to successfully leave me one day. To go out into the world and make their own life, their own way, their own future. Can I say I completely like that end result, maybe not. Yet I know it is the best gift I can give them. It's how I choose to raise my beautiful, inspiring, unique, kind, caring, loving and intelligent children. They just better call me and come visit, often!

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