When you look at my boyfriend’s son, Austin, you don’t see his learning disabilities. You don’t see the severe dyslexia, the auditory processing disorder, or the ADD. You see a young, spritely kid with a happy-go-lucky attitude, a lop-sided smile, and a heart of gold.
What I’ve learned in loving and parenting Austin is that having a ‘special need’ doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t define you.
That phrase is not who he is, and not who I am as his ‘parent.’
Being a parent of a special needs child can be challenging, yes, and your journey together is often paved with difficult turns and twists. But it’s so rewarding, too.
Although I’m not Austin’s biological parent, I consider myself a mother figure in his life. And as we’ve navigated the school system, doctor’s offices, assessments and tests, and a myriad of other challenges along our path, these are seven affirmations I truly believe every parent of a special needs child needs to hear.
1. You are doing an amazing job.
When my boyfriend James and I moved in together, I took over a good portion of Austin’s school decisions. As someone with a background in education and a teaching license, I knew a thing or two about protocol, parental rights, and IEP requirements. I also knew that intervention would be necessary to help Austin get on track.
The first time someone spoke these words over me was at a friend’s house. I was rambling on about the stress I was feeling about Austin’s first official IEP meeting at the start of the school year and she turned to me and simply said, “You’re doing amazing.” And I started to tear up.
Sometimes you forget the effort you’re putting in and the strength you have to keep going. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you are POWERFUL. And you are making a difference in that child’s life.
2. I believe in you.
We’re our own worst critics, aren’t we? We get in our own heads about things, believing that we’re somehow not equipped to be the parent our child needs.
But that’s absolutely not true.
If you haven’t heard this today or ever—I believe in you. You can do this. You are the person your child needs.
3. You really do know best.
I’ll never forget the first time an academic professional recommended ADD medication as a solution for Austin’s struggles in the classroom. I was standing next to James and I could feel him physically stiffen. From his own experience, he was wildly against medication. And Austin, only nine-and-a-half at the time, was far too young.
I remember the look on James face that night when I brought it up to him. He was serious in a way I’d never seen him. “I don’t want that for him,” he said. And after playing devil’s advocate for a while, I finally agreed. He was his father; he knew best.
Flash forward a few months and Austin has made strides—solely on natural remedies and hard work. It made me realize something fundamentally important about being a parent. You just know.
There are things I’m now learning and feeling in my own subconscious, things about Austin and what I feel is right now that I’ve been such an active figure in his life. For you, regardless of your situation, I hope you recognize the inherent truth: you know what’s best for your child. Trust that.
4. Your gut is not wrong.
If you have a feeling about something—even if it’s one you can’t quite explain—you have to know that it’s there for a reason. Whether it’s your intuition, your faith, or a lesson from the past coming back as a reminder, don’t be afraid to listen to your gut and follow where it leads.
5. You have nothing to be afraid of.
Your road will not be easy, but there’s nothing to be afraid of.
There will be struggles, pain, dead ends, and sometimes no answers at all, but as long as you keep moving forward and do the best you can, things will be okay. Your child might not have an easy life, but he or she will have a life worth living.
Don’t live in fear. Instead, embrace the possibility.
6. You WILL get through this, and anything else in your path.
As a parent of a special needs child, you are stronger than most. You have built up a resilience that will get you through the wildest storms and you have a heart that’s so, so big. Whatever you’re facing right now, know there is far more beautiful things to come.
And if you ever doubt that, take one look at your child.
7. You are not alone.
You are not alone. There are so many people who are walking in your footsteps, who are frustrated and tired, who feel defeated at the lack of answers and solutions. There are people who understand your sacrifices, your struggle, your pain.
Even if it feels like you’re facing this battle alone, know that there are others who understand and who care. And know, above all, that your child loves you, feels you, and is thankful in his or her own way.
As a parent of a special needs child, your journey is different
But that doesn’t make it any less worthy and beautiful. If you feel like giving up, remember how far you’ve come. If you want to quit, look at your child and be reminded of how much he or she needs you.
And remember that everything starts with one tiny step forward—so keep going.