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

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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

Originally published: February 6, 2016
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