Loving and raising a child with special needs has its own set of challenges, struggles, and battles. It also has such pure moments of bliss I often find myself tearing up at the littlest things. If you asked me a year ago where I see myself, I would have never pictured walking in the shoes I’m in. I never would have imagined stepping into roles I wasn’t quite prepared for, or welcoming a tiny human into my life as my own.
If you follow my story you know that I’m a bonus mom to my boyfriend’s son, Austin. If you read about our journey, you probably also know that Austin has dyslexia and auditory processing challenges that hold him back in school.
But none of that defines him, or changes who I am in his life.
Whether you’re a parent of a special needs child, or curious about our journey, I hope you laugh with me, smile with me, and most of all, remember that we are not defined by our labels. We’re defined by the way we love, and who loves us.
‘Special Needs’ is a Description, Not a Definition
One of the most important things I’ve learned in being in Austin’s life is to recognize people as people. Not as their labels.
Everyone has something that describes who they are. Whether that’s race, sexuality, physical descriptions, or something else, these things are pieces of who we are, yes. But we are so much more than that. When we limit ourselves by these labels, allow others to define us by these labels, or mistakenly chalk people up to these labels, we’re putting judgment over genuine connection.
And we’re cheapening our human experiences rather than expanding them.
Austin has special needs, yes. But he’s also a regular ten-year-old kid with a big heart, passion for scootering and playing video games, and a smile that brightens any room. He’s smart in his own ways. He is far more resilient than most adults I know, and he will continue to grow into his identity. Being able to play a major role in that is humbling.
You Have to Fight for What You Believe In and Deserve
There is no manual for being a special needs parent. There’s no how-to book or guidelines for what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ What I’ve learned is that you have to move from the heart, always. When you’re leading and making decisions based on love, you’re caring about people first. And that’s what grows everything.
The hard part about loving and raising a child with special needs is that as a parent, you’re often fighting for their chances and opportunities. You have to fight for their rights, for their voice, and for people to make necessary accommodations for them.
Every person deserves a chance. Every person deserves to be helped. And every person deserves a good life—in whatever applicable context. Being a parent in this situation often means fighting like hell, and even when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, not regretting a single second.
All the Hard Work Is Worth It
There are long nights, early mornings, tough decisions, and often a few tears. But what I remind myself of, and what I tell Austin almost every day, is that each little step counts. As you take those steps, you get closer and closer to your goals.
In the End, Love Is All There Is
Love has no labels. I remember first reading this phrase years ago, but it took on a new meaning when I met Austin and really got involved with his life and learning.
When we think about ‘labels’ we think of stereotypes. We think of words like ‘tomboy’ or ‘jock’ or ‘black’ or ‘white.’ We don’t often think about ‘special needs’ as something negative that can define someone. And that’s because it isn’t. Having special needs isn’t a negative, and it’s not a definition. It’s a description of something that’s inhibiting learning. It’s a part of an individual that’s different, yes, but doesn’t make him or her any less valuable.
As I watch Austin grow and I grow alongside him in my compassion and tolerance, I’m reminded that in the end, all that matters is love.
It doesn’t matter who we are, what we look like, or what we’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at. It matters how we care about one another, how we spread love, and how we can make a difference in one another’s lives.
Whether you’re a parent of a special needs child, someone who has worked with kids, or just resonating with another’s parenting journey, I hope these words encourage you and remind you that none of us are alone in our journeys. And wow, is that beautiful.
Featured Image Credit: Brett Brooks Photography
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