What You Don’t See in This Photo of My Son With Special Needs and Me


This picture was taken the summer of 2014. It’s a silhouette selfie of a mother and her son, standing strong by a railing and relishing their shadows.

Gabriella Volpe.2-001

But there’s a lot more to this photo that you don’t see.

The boy in the silhouette is 7 years old and requires support to stand and walk. He arrived at the railing in an adapted stroller guided by his mother. What you don’t see is the years worth of hard work it took him to get to this point, to this positioning, to this moment in this photo.

There are many other things you don’t see.

You don’t see the diagnosis printed in black and white on his medical record at birth.

You don’t see the many hours he spent in his parents’ arms crying fiercely when they didn’t know he was hurting.

You don’t see the years spent in therapy so he could learn to roll over, sit up and balance.

You don’t see the effort required to learn to hold his own bottle and to feed himself little snacks.

You don’t see how he looks deep into your eyes as he waits to be taught a new sign.

You don’t see his frustrations when he wants you to understand something but you can’t.

You don’t see the sleepless nights, the hospital stays and the frightening medical tests.

You don’t see the equipment this boy requires to stand, walk and sit.

You don’t see the village that surrounds both the boy and his mother — those who’ve been there since the beginning, those who’ve crept into their lives at just the right moment and those they never imagined building relationships with.

You don’t see the grandparents who shed secret tears for both of them, but they always show up with a smile and dessert.

You don’t see the whys, the what-ifs and the endless worries simply by looking at this photo.

You also don’t see how, despite these struggles, the same boy in the photograph laughs a contagious laugh and hugs the most snuggly hugs.

You don’t see how he wakes up ready to face another day — never dwelling on yesterday’s troubles.

You don’t see how simple things in life delight him.

You don’t see how comfortable he is in his own skin.

You don’t see how he easily accepts others.

You don’t see how he notices children and reaches out to give spontaneous, sloppy kisses.

You don’t see how connected he is to the human spirit.

You don’t see how happy he is being in our family.

You don’t see how he happy he is being alive.

This ramp leads to a gazebo by the river — a place this boy and his mother come to spend time together in silence.

What you don’t see is that this ramp is physical therapy for the boy, and the gazebo is spiritual therapy for his mother.

What you don’t see are the smiles they’re both wearing. Standing here on this day took a greater effort than it appears. The boy is giggling, the mom is elated. This was the first time he stood here — solid and proud.

Even though the mom worked hard to capture this perfect moment, the boy waited patiently as though he knew, too, that no one else would be able to see what they see in this picture.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Other

What the Adults in My Autistic Child’s Life Don’t Realize About Me

We’re getting over the stigma about my son’s autism. I’m advocating — firmly and loudly — and I’m not afraid to look a little “weird” with him. If we have to bring a cardboard box to the grocery store so he can pretend to be a robot instead of rearranging the canned goods in alphabetical [...]

I Remind Myself of This When Parenting a Teen With Autism Seems Daunting

As a parent of a child with special needs, IEP meetings have become somewhat routine. Everyone shows up, discusses what Hunter (my son) needs and figures out how to accommodate him to make the most of his educational experience. The meetings are always emotionally difficult because they are a harsh reminder of the difficulties he faces every day. Most [...]

Man With Down Syndrome Wins Fight Against Bullies Who Made Hateful Meme

One man with Down syndrome took a stand against online bullying. And won. Adam Holland, from Nashville, Tennessee, had a photo taken of him in an art class in 2004, when he was 17. About eight years later, the photo surfaced online, only people had altered it and turned it into an offensive meme, the [...]

The One Truth I’ve Learned as the Dad of a Daughter With Down Syndrome

On an especially chilly winter morning several years ago, my daughter, Jillian Daugherty, boarded the 3X bus for work and took her customary seat near the front. As the bus filled en route to downtown Cincinnati, riders were forced to stand. One woman in particular – elderly and frail, and wobbling with every stop, start [...]