10 Things I Want Others to Know When I'm Out With My Special Needs Family


It’s that time of year again, full of family gatherings and festive events. For our family of four young children and two tired parents, even the smallest excursion can be difficult. Additionally, our children face extra challenges while we try to enjoy the merriment as a family.

Between our four children, they have diagnoses of autism, ADHD, anxiety and epilepsy. We know each time we venture out in public there may be challenges, but we still like to experience all the holiday season brings. The challenge, however, isn’t always just for us. Sometimes it can be a challenge for those who are attending the events alongside our clan.

This past weekend, we attended “Elf Jr.,” a musical for children. It was cute, engaging, and most of our children loved it. Our children’s ages are 2, 3, 5 and 7. We probably should have left our littlest one at home, considering the 2 p.m. show was during his nap time. However, we like to be out together as a family, even if that means one parent is going to have to leave with “the difficult child,” whoever it happens to be that day.

Our row of six seats contained four buckets of popcorn, five bags of fruit snacks, two bottles of water and a sippy cup full of milk (ooh, re-read this sentence singing “The 12 Days of Christmas”).

Besides a bit of loud talking and messy popcorn eating, the three older kids behaved fairly well. The 2-year-old, however, was up and down throughout the entire show. I am used to the looks we get — some empathizing and forgiving, and some seemingly disappointed in our parenting. Usually, I try not to spend time engrossed in what others are thinking of me. I know it may look from the outside like a chaotic scene, and that may be true on many days in public, but behind the scenes we are doing a few things right.

Therefore, if you see us out on one of those days, please also understand these 10 things:

1. We know we can be a lot. We’ve got a lot of people, stuff and sometimes challenges. We’re still in the stage of sippy cups, snack bags and travel toys. We need those to help avoid outbursts and meltdowns. That is who we are, and we are OK with that.

2. We get each other. My husband gets stressed when the house is too messy. I get worked up on party days. One child demands to figure everything out on his own, while our little girl can’t stop crying when she’s tired. Another child hates public bathrooms, and his brother can be very literal. He isn’t being difficult; he’s trying to understand or be understood. We have our quirks, and we’re learning how to handle them better, but we also give each other the room to be who we are.

3. The most valuable things in our home are not fancy cars or gadgets. The most valuable things are tall block towers, custom crayon artwork, trains with working batteries, day-long Lego creations, and whatever toy their sibling has.

4. Our manners may not be the same as yours. We say please and thank you, but farts are still funny. While we practice what to do/say in public, at home we’re not always polite.

5. We may parent our children differently than you do. We use time out only when they get really out-of-control. Instead, we spend extra time coaching our children to deal with their emotions, to make better choices, and to use their words. Consequences are based on their intentions, not their actions.

6. We are committed. My husband and I are in this messy family that we love — together. We are committed to raising the best versions of our children. It might not be exactly how others would do it. That’s OK.

7. We feel real hard. If we are happy, we’ve got to share it with you. When we are sad or hurt, you’re sure going to know how bad it is. When we love, our bottom lips quiver and our eyes fill up with tears because our hearts are so full.

8. My children face challenges with sensory stimuli that you cannot always see. Please understand in those moments, they are trying their best.

9. Parenting can be hard. Parenting four children who have special needs can bring challenges. Add any other variable, and it can be even more challenging. We, as their parents, are doing our best.

10. We wouldn’t change it. These are our people, and we are going to let them be little. They’re only that way for a while.

Outings, no matter how stressful they can be, are a part of life. From doctor appointments to Target runs to musicals, we will be there with our sometimes messy selves, growing up a little bit each time.

Are you a special needs parent (or just a parent trying to get through events)? What would you like others to know about your public or private life?

Image via Contributor.

A version of this post originally appeared on Highs, Lows and Hair Bows.

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