I believe that every child is a special needs child. I have always believed every child special; but ‘special needs’ was a whole separate category I happily kept at a comfortable distance. That distance vanished and I acquired this brand-new belief on April 27, 2006, when my son was diagnosed with autism.
I’d been worried about his lack of language but since he was still two years old and has an older sister I was only too willing to keep waiting. After all, he made his wants and needs known to us and in all other ways he’s always been a happy, active, bright little guy with a ton of personality.
I am lucky to have a number of good friends who recognized that I was not sufficiently worried. As a result of their guidance, my son is in a wonderful program working with top-notch educators, aides and therapists. He is making progress all the time and I see no limits to his future. Although the distance between ‘my life’ and ‘special needs’ is gone, I have learned a great deal, mostly about myself. I guess I would have described myself as patient, but in retrospect I didn’t know the meaning of the word. I had the ability to reserve making judgements when I’d see children ‘melting down’ or behaving in a way that drew stares. My daughter had always been well-mannered and seemed to have an instinct that guided her behavior, even as a toddler. I KNEW this was exceptional and considered myself lucky that she could run errands with me and even go to restaurants without difficulty.
With my son, I found that I had to do errands when my husband was home to stay with him. Visits to the pediatrician and haircuts became major ordeals. It seemed to get worse the older he got. Initially, I admit (with a fair amount of shame) I was disappointed and even angry. I assumed his behavior was willful and thought he could and should do better. Now, of course, I realize that he wasn’t ‘out of line’ but my expectations were.
This diagnosis has awakened me to the fact that every child has challenges and in fact, ‘special needs’. I don’t address my remarks necessarily to teachers, because they spend all their working hours balancing those special needs with the learning standards to which they must adhere. I believe that every child is a special needs child whether that need is defined as an accelerated course, a movement break, extra time to complete tests, medication, a good breakfast or somebody saying “I love you, have a good day” before they leave the house.
I think back to my daughter’s first years in school, and the various children she’d describe. Some of them, just names and stories at that point, struck me as ‘problem kids’ who interfered with the education of the other students. Now I am heartbroken at the thought that they might have been unable to function in a classroom without some extra, special help. I am heartbroken to realize my little boy, one of the two lights of my life, would have become one of those ‘problem kids’, talked about over other people’s dinner tables, if not for the help he is now receiving because someone recognized the need.
I am convinced that there is a high achiever in every child, if we could just recognize their ‘special needs’.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.