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5 Common Misconceptions About Special Needs Parents

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As the mother of a child with special needs, people often go out of their way to offer me words of encouragement, support and praise. Most of the time, I sincerely appreciate the good intentions behind these confidence builders. Sometimes their words are spot-on. But every once in a while, their comments could not be further from the truth.

In order for others to truly understand the complexity of being a parent to a child with special needs, I feel the need to dispel some common misconceptions I’ve heard.

1. You have so much patience.” The truth is, I don’t. Each morning, I rush to get everyone dressed and out of the house on time. Sometimes this results in a panicked and impatient me yelling. I get easily annoyed in the car. I was the child who perpetually asked, “Are we there yet?” I’m now the woman behind you in traffic shouting, “Stick a nickel in it,” as I do my best to make it from work to my kid’s next therapy appointment on time. I loathe waiting — on a phone call, for a table at restaurants and on the table at the ob-gyn.

Having a child with special needs does not make me immune to bouts of impatience. Parenting is a delicate practice in patience. And with time, I hope to improve — if I can wait that long.

2. You are so strong.” Some days, I am anything but strong. There are days when I cry in the car. There are mornings when I know it would be easier to stay in bed. There are the nights before doctor’s appointments when my anxiety takes over. I try to make bargains with God. I experience grief and anger and sadness. I struggle to cope with the obstacles ahead of my child and my family.

And then there are days when I am strong. When I get up and face the day, the doctor’s appointment and any other obstacle with optimism and determination.

My role as a parent of a child with special needs means I regularly find myself in situations that require me to be strong — even when I feel helpless. I choose to be strong for my daughter, but strength is not a requirement for having a child with special needs. Instead, having a child with special needs is often a lesson in perseverance and strength.

3. “You have so much on your plate, so you don’t want to hear about what my child is going through.” No! I do. I am your friend/sister/co-worker, and your child’s ear infection/sprained ankle/middle-of-the-night vomit session is just as important to me as I hope my child’s medical scares are to you.

When we analyze poop consistencies together and share teething terror stories, I feel a sense of normalcy.

4. You are so organized/put together.” In all honesty, I’m just really good at throwing things together at the last minute. If you’re making this assumption based on my Facebook page, please know you’re probably looking at one out of probably 324 pictures I took. Obviously, I chose the best one to post. You aren’t seeing me now — uncombed hair, clad in pajama pants and a shirt that is smeared with the remnants of my daughter’s yogurt from breakfast. You aren’t seeing me at the neurologist appointment that I got mixed up with the cardiologist appointment. You aren’t seeing my confusion and tears when I realize my mistake and have to reschedule both. You aren’t seeing the piles of paperwork from hospitals that I have hurriedly stashed in my desk drawer. Nor are you seeing the massive pile of laundry in the corner of my bedroom that is still waiting to be done.

My goal is never to misrepresent, but like any parent, I enjoy sharing the happy moments in my life.

5. “Your life must be so hard.” There was a time when my life was filled with too many tests and tears and therapy sessions and doctors. There was a time when sadness and depression occupied the majority of my day. But I would be a complete liar if I let anyone believe that parenting a child with special needs means a lifetime of difficulties and despair.

My life is filled with so many beautiful moments — my two children giggling together as they tell secrets at bedtime, the sound of their voices as they sing silly songs together in the car, the excitement in the eyes of my oldest when she saw her little sister walk for the first time. And the power of the beautiful moments are what gets us through the hardest ones.

Originally published: November 3, 2015
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