themighty logo

My Childhood Friend Taught Me a Valuable Lesson About Special Needs Parenting

Before I even had my children, the world of special needs was something of my own childhood. I grew up around those who needed a little extra love and attention. Back in those days, the special needs children were often in separate classrooms. Occasionally, we would have children who had Down syndrome or physical disabilities in our classrooms.


In my third grade, my best friend was a boy with spina bifida, who later died due to other things happening inside his small body. It was knowing him without seeing the very obvious thing that made him different that allowed me to grow up to see a people beyond any stated issue they have in life.

It made me wonder, when my own children were diagnosed, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could see past that one distinctive factor? Even though there have been a lot of advancements in medical science, it seems the ignorance of long before still reigns.

I’ve written a lot about the daily struggles both myself and my children have navigating around in a world that seems to be, some days, a sea of assholes. Every time I encounter someone who can’t quite figure my children out, I think back to looking in on those classrooms filled with children who just wanted to play and have friends. And I think, it hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, we’re starting to see more and more special needs children within the classroom, but it’s the attitudes that haven’t changed. Policies have. But not the way of thinking. We still have teachers who don’t respect the uniqueness of their students and adults out there who still try to take advantage of those they think are weak. It’s those attitudes that get passed down that bother me.

I take the experiences I had growing up as something to teach my own children. I want them to see people with an open mind. I don’t want them to think that just because someone is different from them, they need to be excluded from society. I want them to be able to stick up for someone who maybe can’t.

After we got the diagnosis of our third child, I remembered all those years of looking inside those special classrooms, thinking to myself, “Why can’t they come out and play with us?” I see my son, who is very happy where he is, in one of those classrooms. I hope the day will come that he will be able to be with his peers. I know in my heart it will.

I hang on to those memories of a person that taught me so much. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But looking back, I just see a person who was willing to be my friend and I, his. Looking at school pictures, he was always at the end in his wheelchair with a megawatt smile. I remember at his funeral, his mother thanked me for being such a good friend. To this day, I was just happy to have had him in my life. To me, there wasn’t any labels or diagnosis. If a person was a good person, that was all the mattered.

I hope that one day, everyone will be on the same page, speaking the same language when it comes to accepting our children. Being kind and compassionate. Looking back, me just being a friend to someone who was different, meant more to me than anything else, as he taught me more about being a good human being than I think he realized. And that is the lesson many people still need to learn.

This post originally appeared on
Spouse, Kids and Special Needs aren’t things issued in a Seabag?

Read more from Andrea Thomason on The Mighty:
When You Get Your Child’s Diagnosis, Remember This

Live Mighty. Like us on Facebook.