5 Things I’ve Learned About Blending a Family With Special Needs

I was a single mom with a tenacious 4-year-old. He was tall, dark and handsome and came along with two of his own. We were divorcees, cautiously optimistic that true love was still alive and well somewhere beyond our pasts. He didn’t tell me at first that his son, Austin, was autistic and nonverbal. It took a few dates for him to open up about Austin and his diagnosis.

At that time, I knew nothing about autism. It has been three years since then. We live together, and now we have a child of our own. Our brood has grown to four, ranging from teen to teether.

Here are five lessons the process of blending a family with special needs has taught me, and we are all better because of it.

1. We can only offer guidance and support.

At first I imagined myself to be the new hero of Austin’s life, but I was wrong. This is my stepson’s journey, and I am here to guide and support, just like I must guide and support my own son. I needed to let go of my notions that I could make everything great all the time and accept him for where he was at — and we would move forward at his pace, not mine.

2. We are a team.

My partner and I have to divide and conquer to keep everyone calm and collected. We look out for each other, and we are proud to be different. We have strength and resiliency in our uniqueness.

3. I come last.

This one was hard. Here is the man I love, we are all together on a weekend, it is bedtime for the kids and I’m ready to snuggle and chitchat. But the children need baths and their own bedtime routines, and one of us is always attending to another. Our children need attention, and I need to understand that the beauty and strength of the man I love is best utilized when I support him with the children rather than vying for his attention. My support makes our relationship flourish in those times we actually are alone.

4. We have to commit to the unknown.

I had to realize that in this relationship, if we were going to work, I had to commit to the unknown. We do not know how my stepson will be five or ten years down the line. And if I put myself in his father’s shoes, that has to be quite worrisome. I had to accept that this is a commitment not only to the man I love, but to his child. We also needed to educate our other children on their commitment to each other, each person playing a role in one another’s protection and support.

5. We teach one another.

Blending a family is hard on its own; everyone comes with a little baggage. But when special needs are involved, we can all learn to see the world through a different lens. Austin teaches us not only to see, but to sense. He teaches us to be alert, brave and kind in the face of criticism. Our love has grown, all thanks to the way this little boy has taught us to see the world.

Father and son playing in a park playground

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

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Father and Son With Autism Share Touching Moment in Video Interview

There’s nothing quite like the love between father and son. Bill and his son, Chris, who has severe autism, sat down to share their story. In the video below, from Upworthy, Bill discusses his son’s multiple diagnoses, his family’s commitment to getting Chris the therapy and schooling he needed, and most importantly, his unconditional love [...]

Finding the Joy in Routine as the Mom of a Teenager With Autism

Most days we manage to stay on task and in the moment. We get up, brush our teeth, find or don’t find our shoes and clothes and favorite hat. We catch the bus and the carpool, go our separate ways for a few hours, and regroup for the afternoon’s festivities of snacks, sports, homework, dinner, showers (maybe), sleep and [...]

The Question That’s Helped Me Over the Years as a Special Needs Mom

Years ago, when my oldest two were around 5 and 2 years old, my good friend and old college roommate came to California with one of her sisters to visit. They live in Tennessee, so it was a real treat to have them. We met up at a nearby mall and walked around, me with [...]

16 People With Autism Describe Why Eye Contact Can Be Difficult

For some people on the autism spectrum, making eye contact can be a stressful, distracting and sensory-taxing experience. Far too often, though, outsiders view avoiding eye contact as “rude” or “antisocial,” when this isn’t the case at all. In an effort to better understand how this experience feels for many on the spectrum, The Mighty asked [...]