The label special needs really makes me cringe. Special needs children have cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities, things that change the way their worlds work and the way everyone around them reacts. Special needs children have lifelong problems accompanied by sadness and stress for the people who love them.
It took me a long time to admit that I have a special needs child. And it changed my perspective, my definition of what special needs really means. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but it is a different path from the one we imagine. Of course all children have unique needs, and we mold our lives to meet the different needs of our individual children. But it usually follows at least a kind of predictable pattern with typical children. With children who have special needs, we have to redefine the pattern. And we have to remake the mold we’ve been using with our other children.
When Little K was diagnosed with developmental apraxia last year, I was a little…destroyed. And then when I did accept the reality of his speech needs, I closed the door there. I assumed his obvious speech differences were the extent of his disorder, of his tricky neurological development. But as he grows into a complete little person and we sort through his frustrations, his sensitivities and additional needs are impossible to ignore.
Neuro pathways are so incredibly complex and intricate that it only makes sense that Little K’s neurological differences would not begin and end with speech sounds. His sensitivity to noise, his anxiety when faced with strangers and new situations, even his intensely terrified reaction to having band-aids on his skin – these have to be connected to his unique neurological structure. And they are one more doorway we need to walk through in order to embrace and understand his differences. His special needs.
I don’t want to define Little K by his needs, but I have to acknowledge them in order to understand his world. In order to help him understand it, and especially help him understand why it is so stressful sometimes. If that means skipping a visit to out-of-state family at Thanksgiving because an overwhelming month has caused him to regress in multiple areas, or if it means rejecting library story time – that absolute requirement of good mothering – because he freaks out when he is expected to keep up with actions and simultaneous singing in a group, then we’ll embrace that, too. Because this life of ours is his, too, and we absolutely have to make him a special space in it, unpredictable needs and all.