All marriages have ups and downs, and adding children can intensify whatever strengths or weaknesses already exist. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, this intensity can make a marriage stronger.
For my husband and me, raising a child with a disability (in our case, high-functioning autism spectrum disorder), brought out differences in our parenting styles, fast. But in the end, our different perspectives enabled us to evaluate all of our options and come together for our son.
For example, although we had a good experience for the past three years at public school, kindergarten has been rough. We were afraid our son was beginning to fall through the cracks. He’s well-behaved and very bright, but definitely has learning issues and needs extra help emotionally and socially.
When we spoke to his school, they told us their job was to bring special needs kids up to the grade-level minimum, but not to their full potential. For us, that was a clear signal it was time to go.
My husband and I began to discuss our goals for a new school. We both expect our son to go to college. But my husband knew our son would need a smaller class size with teachers who would push him. It was important to him that our son was included. I knew he needed a school with a strong arts program and the space to be a goofy kid and tell poop jokes.
It didn’t take long for the process of researching and visiting schools to become stressful and overwhelming. I toured over 10 schools between December and April of this year. I’d made the initial assessment, and then together, my husband and I discussed the pros and cons. If we were interested, we made a follow-up appointment for my husband to take a tour.
My observations tended to be more intuitive. My husband’s were always more specific and detailed. But it turned out to be a perfect balance. Together we decided where to apply. Even though we had different reasons and thought processes, we generally came to the same conclusions. This way, it seemed, we always covered all our ground.
Through this process, we learned a lot about ourselves and about each other. I learned that my husband has insights into the schools and our son’s needs that I don’t have and vice versa.
My husband is a lot like our son in some important ways. He was different growing up. He needed extra help, and he felt like an outsider. So when he tells me how he thinks our son will react in certain educational environments, I listen to him. I’ve learned to trust his perspective, as different as it can be from mine. He trusts my instincts as well.
I also was different growing up. Though I didn’t have any specific learning disabilities, I now think I have sensory processing issues around sound and auditory information transfer. I’ve also got a mood disorder that has, thankfully, not shown up in our son. But I know what to look for.
In trying to understand our son’s needs, I’ve developed more tolerance for my partner’s eccentricities as well. My husband needs his routines to feel safe, and in the past that’s made me feel like I’ve done something wrong. I now understand that it’s not about me. It’s the way he was built, and the good far outweighs the bad.
Finally, we’ve learned how important it is not just to tolerate, but to embrace each other’s point of view. When I started to really appreciate my husband’s differences instead of insisting that he think like me, it strengthened not only our ability to make decisions, but our relationship.
In the end, our son was accepted to a college prep/mixed disability special needs school with drama, art and music programs. Although we had different reasons for choosing to send him there, we were in total agreement.
The Mighty wants to hear more about relationships and special needs parenting. Can you share a moment on your special needs journey that strengthened your relationship? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.
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