'Mom, Do I Have Special Needs?'


How do we talk to our children about their special needs? At what age should we share what amount of information? I wish I could sit here as an expert and spout the answers to those important questions. I can’t. I’m a mom, muddling through along with the rest of us playing-this-whole-parenting-thing-by-ear folk.

You know who we are: the ones who, when we were single and saw parents with screaming toddlers in the grocery store, said things like, “My kids will NEVER…” There were the times I saw children climbing all over pews in church and as Mike and I, newly married, would converse while driving home from church, we would say, “When we have children they will learn to sit still and respectfully listen…” Ha, ha, and HA, young, naive me. I hope I enjoyed it while I could.

No. Perhaps after 18 years, 35 children, 10,000 diapers, and more times through “Goodnight Moon” than I would care to recall, the one thing I can say with pure conviction is that I am still on a wing and a prayer over here a majority of the time.

Special Needs Conversations

My elementary school son glances at a recent newspaper article about my weight loss story, which includes information about our family. The article mentions that I have five children, including two with special needs.

“Mom, do I have special needs?”

My mind starts whirling. Crum! Have I shared too much? But it’s true and we are called to share our truth. Is this going to scar him for life? What if he remembers this when he is 20? Is he never going to speak to me again? Why am I thinking of so many things in 5 seconds? Throw me some help here, Lord!

“Well, you used to have special needs. When you were a baby you did because you were born so premature.”

“Like when I had surgery and I was tiny enough to fit into a person’s hand?”

“Yes, like that and also when you were older you had a lot of therapy and doctor’s appointments, too, as you were growing up. Now someone would look at you and they would have no idea any of that happened. You are doing so well!”

Off he goes to find pirates or Spiderman or a brother with whom to pick a fight, and the conversation is over.

Yet my mind does not settle. I am not truly happy with my answer. I know I wasn’t honest with him, and I try to always be honest with my kids. I don’t have to tell them all the details — we give them information in the doses they are able to handle as appropriate for their age, but he is not a small child anymore. His life and his history are his, not mine. I am the keeper of it for him.

Now it is a few days later. My son sits on the floor of his room building an intricate Lego aircraft. Tiny red and blue pieces rapidly click in miraculous ways under his deft fingers. I sit down cross-legged on the floor next to him. It’s been a rough day at school for him today.

I wait silently for a minute, watching my son work. He does not look up. Lord, please give me the words.

“Remember a few days ago when we talked about when you were a baby and you had special needs, and I said you used to? I wasn’t telling you the whole truth. You aren’t a little boy anymore and I want to be honest with you. I try to always be honest with my kids.

“You do have special needs. There are things about you that are different from other kids. Special doesn’t mean bad, but it does mean different. I know you have to worker harder than other kids at certain things, and I really admire how hard you work.”

I stop talking. I am a talker, but we’ve learned that less is more when it comes to communication with this son of mine.

He still doesn’t speak. Click-click, a green Lego onto a blue. His arm reaches across my knee to get the exact piece he needs for the shield.

“How do you feel about having special needs?”

“Happy and sad,” He answers immediately.

Happy and sad. This wasn’t the answer I was expecting.

“Why happy and sad?” I ask.

“Sad because the work is harder for me, and I miss stuff that happens in the classroom. Happy because I get treats the other kids don’t get, like I get to pick out of the treasure box in Ms. D’s room when I finish my math.”

“Wow. I’m really impressed you are able to see the good and the bad in this situation, That’s great.”

I rub his back. The lines of his shoulders are smoother. His movements have slowed some. There’s something about truth being said out loud — even when it’s hard — that makes it better. His life and his history are his, not mine. I am the keeper of it for him.

How do you talk to your children about tough stuff in their lives?

This post originally appeared on Sara Borgstede’s site.

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