When a parent learns her child has special needs of some kind — whether they’re brought on by illness, genetics, or an accident at birth — many times she is overcome with a sense of dread and loss. It’s almost as if she is mourning a death of sorts, and in reality, she is: the death of what she had anticipated for her child. But after a while, that sense of dread turns into one of — dare I say it? — happiness. Happiness that her child has proven the doctors wrong. Happiness that her child continues to grow and flourish despite his challenges. And happiness that she gets to be the one to witness his strength and perseverance. Though it may seem like an odd declaration to make, sometimes I am actually glad my son has special needs. And here are seven reasons why. He’s stronger than the average Joe. My typical sons are strong in their own ways, of course. But my son with cerebral palsy and hemiparesis from a stroke in utero? He’s strong in a special kind of way — a way that declares, “I’ve straddled the fine line between life and death, and I’ve fallen on the side of life in spite of every odd stacked against me.” He knows that failure is a stepping stone toward success. Kids today expect success on the first try. Sadly, so do many of their parents. The problem with this expectation is that most people do not succeed every time they do something. Most people fail, learn from their experiences, and put that knowledge to use the next time around. My son has his fair share of failures to choose from. Why is this good? He’s turned most of them into victories. And that he’s already been schooled in this fact of life puts him ahead of many who haven’t. He has taught us the true meaning of patience. Having patience when raising children is a must, however difficult it can be to come by on occasion. But few parents actually know the true meaning of patience until they have no choice but to employ it with a child who has special circumstances. I can’t count how many times I have been equally as frustrated as my son — if not more so — at his inability to do something. And watching him push through his frustrations, many times as a result of our encouragement, has given us the patience we need to have with all our children, not just our child with special needs. Reaching milestones is that much sweeter. First-time parents are notorious milestone watchers. They can’t wait until their children master the next skill and then quickly begin anticipating the one to follow. When a child’s mastery of certain milestones is uncertain, however, it is doubly satisfying when they do eventually reach them — and it is something we have learned to savor with all our children. He is expert at things for which other kids his age are novice. When you spend most of your life at physical and occupational therapy, you become pretty good at doing things like standing upright on a balance board while clapping your hands and climbing dangerous playground equipment without falling. Because our son has had to work extra hard to acquire these skills, he’s well ahead of his peers in some regards. We’re far less nervous that he may get hurt doing these activities. And seeing him achieve these goals makes that uncertainty we felt about his future dissipate. He has taught us what it means to be thankful. It’s easy to go through life expecting everything to work out as it should. When it doesn’t, or when tragedy strikes, it is crushing, to say the least. We now know what it truly means to count our blessings. Each day our son navigates his challenges successfully, and each day we get to spend in the company of one another, is a good day, regardless of what might have gone wrong during it. He has brought us closer together. Many families are close. Ours is even closer now that we’ve been through some of the most trying times of our lives and now that we’ve learned to depend on each other to get through those that remain. And that he has such a strong network of people to help him is definitely important. If I could will away my son’s health concerns and difficulties, I most certainly would. I don’t wish for him to have added challenges in this already difficult thing called life. But that’s not reality. The reality is that my son has special needs and a lifetime of struggles ahead. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and despair, we’re choosing to look at the upside of things. And from where I’m standing, the upside looks pretty bright. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to email@example.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook. And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.