As a parent of a child with special needs, I can confidently say most special needs parents have a lot in common, regardless of their children’s diagnoses. We are determined. We are strong (physically and mentally!). We are tired. We are amateur experts in several different types of therapies. We are eager to learn as much as we can in order to help our children succeed. Really, we are tired. We celebrate every milestone or accomplishment, no matter how small. We are frustrated because we have to continuously fight every stereotype there is relating to our child’s diagnosis. We spend a lot of time driving our kids around from one service to another.
But while we’re busy being or doing all of these things, we aren’t so wrapped up in our lives that we don’t notice things that may be going on around us. We hear you when you bad mouth children with special needs (yes, this happens). We see you when you glance at us with either sympathy (because we must be miserable, dealing with all of this) or disgust (surely there must be something else we can do for our children so that they aren’t so awful, right?). We notice when you exchange looks with other parents when our children are having a difficult time (why would we expect our children to be treated as if they are “normal”??). We hear you when you say or write the r-word, and then watch you get defensive when you realize that we heard you (for the record, it’s never ok to use that word, and yes, you should still use a different word even if you don’t “mean it that way”).
Guess what, though? None of your ridiculous behavior gives us pause to stop doing what we’re doing for our children. In fact, this nonsense only motivates special needs parents to keep fighting, to continue to push not only our kids to be the best they can be, but to prove that the only thing that needs changing is your attitude towards people with disabilities.
And you know what else? Special needs parents also hear the words of encouragement, share in the smiles, and appreciate the inclusive actions from other parents, kids, teachers, coaches, people who live and work in our communities. These are the actions that overpower all of the negativity, that keep pushing the tired parents to keep going. Because while we know it’s necessary, sometimes it’s really hard to be “that parent”, and that extra bit of support is really what we need to keep fighting.
We’re listening. We hear the good, and especially the bad, because we are listening.