My son has special needs. In particular, he has Trisomy 21 and Autism. So, it's obvious to everyone around that he has special needs. He's a great kid and we like him - even though many things are more difficult with him along, which he almost always is. This is not one of those blog posts where I'll tell you how hard my life is or what you should never say to parents who have a child with special needs. In fact, I can't think of a single occasion when people have been anything but nice to us when they see us struggle. People are just so darn nice!
Maybe too nice, but I'm not going to complain about that! I'm somewhat ambivalent when people - friends or strangers - make comments. I know their aim is to encourage us. And I let them. Sometimes they treat him like any other kid, sometimes they appreciate the extra stuff that his issues present in our lives. Either way, I do appreciate it. I am aware that my responses are often as unsure as their comments sometimes are. I like when someone recognizes that it can be challenging - and yet, I also like when they see him as just another kid. He's both, after all.
But, in their kindness, it is not unusual for someone to turn to us and say, "You are heroic." Now, that's where I have to draw the line!! I'm tempted to believe that unwarranted compliment - but the truth is, I'm just being a parent. Even if there are parents who, out of selfishness - or more likely fear, ignorance and bad advice - would reject their child because of extra needs, most parents who discover their child has a condition that needs extra care just step into the role naturally.
When your kid has a stomach bug, you take care of him or her. And except for occasionally posting it on Facebook for the co-commiseration of your friends, you don't expect a medal for doing it. It's part of the job. Well, the same goes for my kid who has an extra set of needs. He's my son and I love him. I do what any parent would do. And we all need continual encouragement while in the trenches of raising children.
He's not the only kid I've seen who requires extra work. Some children who don't have his built-in set of difficulties provide their parents a run for their money. Take two-year-olds for example! Some kids are naturally more rambunctious. Certain temperaments make some children more unpleasant to be around. Some are simply, well, brats. And we expect parents to step up to the plate and deal with what they have helped create.
Special needs of the kind my son deals with are becoming more and more common, but people who act the way he does are still (thank God) unusual. And, that's why people comment at all. We do have circumstances in our life that make things more difficult in a way that most of us would not choose. And, because it's unusual, it can be hard for some to see that we're just parents dealing with and loving our son. Just like they do and would. I am aware that when someone says, "I don't know how you do it" they also mean, "I'm glad I don't have to do that." Part of me wants to respond, "I wish I didn't either!" and part of me wants to point out that they would do it too, if one of their children needed extra care.
So, the next time you're tempted to say something encouraging to a parent with a challenging kid, go ahead! If it's me, I'll eat it up! It may lead to lots of internal conversation and objections on my part - maybe even a blog post - but I appreciate it. I appreciate knowing that I'm surrounded by kind and accepting people who may not know exactly the "right" thing to say. There isn't really a right thing anyway.
Thank you for your words and prayers to help parents just doing our job feel like super-heroes.