When you tried
without success to learn to tie your shoes, your mother might have
quoted the old adage, "Can't never tried." When you did your best but
just couldn't master writing a cursive "Q", you might have been
encouraged to practice more. Eventually you learned to tie your shoes
and can even make a cursive "Q" if the need arises. But if you were
born with a learning or physical disability, these tasks create special
circumstances that require understanding, patience, empathy and
creativity. You are a special needs child.
Always one to
search out an answer to any problem, I came up with creative ways to
teach reading to dyslexics, handwriting skills to dysgraphics, and
multiplication facts to ADD kids while they were bounding on a
mini-trampoline. As the teacher, we could and would overcome any
obstacle! However inspiring, my enthusiasm and optimism kept the
emotional side of these issues at arms length. The ways things are is
just the way things are. Why cry over spilled milk?
It wasn't until
our Luke was diagnosed with severe apraxia and sensory integration
dysfunction that I learned just how devastating a disability can be to
a parent. No matter what the training, vocation or preparation, there
is nothing like realizing your child will never be "normal" Luke is
facing at least one surgery to correct weak eye muscles associated with
apraxia. He has problems with his feet that require braces in his
shoes. He might need hip surgery to correct dysplasia. He has a genetic
heart condition that might need corrective surgery. Our three older
children are "perfect"—no physical disabilities whatsoever. I felt like
I had been hit by a speeding car that came out of no where.
When I finally
accepted the fact that Luke isn't "normal" like our other children, I
cried for 3 weeks. I mourned all the things he could not, and perhaps
would not, ever be able to do. He is our 3rd boy—he was going to be the
fourth part in Daddy's own little men's quartet! We are a family of
singers and he isn't going to be able to speak as others do! How will
he earn a living? Will there ever be that special someone to love and
accept him as he is? "Lord, this is a mistake—I'm sorry but You just
have to 'fix' it." That was my hearts cry.
Luke is our
youngest and I often compare having a special needs child to being a
first-time parent all over again. Only this time I realize how
unprepared I am—how inadequate I am. I am wise enough to know that I
alone am not enough for him to succeed in life. I suspect it is like
this with most parents. We want what IS best for our children in
combination with what we THINK is best for them. When we realize that
our idea of "best" isn't ever going to be accomplished we fall apart.
Our visions are crushed, our Utopia collapses. Dreams of little Johnny
being another National Spelling Bee champion or winning the Nobel Prize
are gone. He will never win an Olympic Gold Medal or earn a National
Merit Scholarship. He won't grow up to build houses or mend fence or
follow Grandpa and Daddy into the Army, Navy, or Marines. We feel as
though a life has ended—the life of who we wanted our child to be
doesn't exist anymore.
In this respect,
having a child with special needs isn't that much different than having
a "normal" child. We just have to face the music sooner that they are
their own persons—created as they are with unique giftings and
interests only their own. We have to come to terms with the Lord's plan
for their lives and trade that in for our own desires for their future.
Without Luke I think I would have faced this end of dreams as most
people do when our children don't go down the path we plan for them:
when they leave our home for their own, or take a road we would not
wish them to travel.
As if dealing
with the special physical, emotional and educational needs isn't
enough, the plot thickens if you are a homeschooling parent. You are
faced with the haunting suspicion that you just might not be your
child's best teacher. Maybe this fear re-surfaces from when you began
walking the homeschool path. Perhaps it is brand-new for you and
frightening in the largest sense of the word. We wrestle with the "Am I
qualified to teach him?" questions. Socialization might be an issue
What do I do now?
What about . . . ? I don't know how to . . ! What if . . . ?
The answers to
these quandaries lie exactly where they did when we first battled them.
They were there when we first found out we were going to be parents;
when we held our little one for the first time, when we began to think
about homeschooling him, when the reality of kidnappings and terrorism
first ricocheted across our minds. This poem by Annie Flint has
ministered to my heart over and over again in the dark hours of
discouragement and inadequacy. For those of us with special needs
children it holds a depth of meaning and poignancy I haven't found
He gives more grace when the burdens grow
He sends more strength when the labors increase,
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed 'ere the day is half done;
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father's full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure.
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again."
- Annie Flint
There are always
questions and doubtings lying at the beginning of life's unknowns.
Peace comes when we realize that the answers lie down the path a little
way. And, just like faith, you will only find them if you forge