All of our children our special, but some of us know just how hard it is having extra special kids. Anyone who has adopted, whether your child was listed as having special needs or not, knows what it’s like to parent an atypical and often difficult child.
Sometimes it is just plain hard.
Whether your special children were born to you or chosen by you, whether you knew they would have needs or those needs came as a shock, it is hard to be the parent of a child with special needs. Rewarding too of course –
Fully of mystery, uncertainty, anxiety, joy, fear, excitement, and tears both happy and sad. Full of sleepless nights and exhausted days, full of pride and pain you never anticipated. Full of stretching and growth you never asked for, but are blessed that you received.
Though it sounds cliché, these special children of ours make us better people. They remind us what is truly important in life, what real success is, and and what is worth valuing in this world that seems to have lost sight of what matters.
Our journey into the world of special needs began with our second biological son and led us to our adopted son four years later.
As our second biological son neared two years old, we started to notice differences between his development and his then four year old brothers. He was born with a cleft palate and needed an operation at six weeks old, and possibly subsequent operations in the future. As a result we knew he would require speech therapy as well as have other health issues.
When he was two and not speaking we began therapy with a wonderful speech and language pathologist who helped us communicate with and understand Micah. Additionally, she expressed concerns about his social interactions and sensory issues. I had never even heard of sensory issues at this point in my life.
We placed our son in occupational therapy to deal with some of those challenges which had begun increasing in severity. Our OT was a blessing from above. She had grown up with a brother on the autism spectrum and, while unable to to diagnose Micah, she was open in sharing her concerns.
After many doctors visits, long waits and eventual psychological testing, Micah was diagnosed with autism at two and a half years old. It was both a time of relief and grief. Relief to know what was behind his differences and difficulties, but also grief that this was going to affect our son and his life and our lives forever and we weren’t quite sure how. Often late at night after an emotional day my husband or I would go lay in bed beside Micah and cry, pray or sleep.
We were so thankful he was with us and we knew he would somehow be ok… but a diagnosis feels like a loss when it is first received, and should be treated and mourned as one. Life as you thought it would go is changing, the terrain is no longer what you expected it would be and though in hindsight you will look back and see the beauty, in the moment it is important to let your heart grieve the losses that change can bring.
Grieving, understanding and dealing with the daily ups and downs of autism has and continues to be a challenge for me. However, it equipped me in a way that I never expected for adoption. My husband and I had discussed adoption ever since we first married. We wanted to have a biological child first and we ended up having three in three years. Once our children got a little older and we had been navigating the life of special needs parents for two years, we felt like God had equipped us to add to our plate. Our old dreams of adoption began resurfacing.
Our youngest was three and we didn’t want a large age gap between our kids, so be decided to pray, asking God what he wanted for us, and doors quickly began to open.
Just as everything in our lives so far, the doors that opened were different than we expected. Three months into beginning our paperwork we were asked if we were interested in viewing a file of a three year old boy on our agency’s China Waiting Child List. The list is composed of children who have special needs and whose paperwork has already been processed; they are essentially waiting for someone to adopt them. We had seen him on the website before and we said yes we would be interested in viewing the file.
Elijah had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, however very little information was given and we were uncertain if we could walk or talk. We sent some questions to the orphanage, waited for a response and prayed. CP was a bigger need than we originally thought we would be able to handle, however some of our dear friends had a son the same age as Elijah who had recently been diagnosed with mild CP – through them we had gained a much better understanding of what the diagnosis could entail.
We were already familiar with speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy – the therapies that many children with CP need. We were a part of the public school special education system and versed in IEPs, legal rights, and advocacy.
We were scared, but we were equipped. God had used our son Micah to open our eyes to a whole new aspect of life. We felt that since we were already doing these things with one child we could do it with another as well. We knew that many needs or services that may overwhelm some people, understandably, were old hat to us.
It became a question of why wouldn’t we and how couldn’t we adopt a child with special needs because we knew that God had already given us what we needed to follow him in obedience.
Micah had set in motion something that we never in our wildest dreams guessed we would be able to handle… two children with special needs.
Both of our boys have shown us the beauty of the broken. I love the quote by songwriter Leonard Cohen that says, “There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in”.
Life as a special needs mom is rarely easy, but we are learning that easy doesn’t mean better, and every day we have a choice to look for the light breaking in through the cracks.