When Your Special Needs Child Looks Normal
Even Support Meetings Can Be Hard When Your Special Needs Child Looks “Normal”
At a recent support meeting for parents of special needs kids, I found myself wishing, not for the first time, that my son had a visible handicap. An odd wish, true, but that is my reality. People recognize physical handicaps. They can be seen on the surface and while people might not know much about the syndrome itself or the individual specifically, they automatically adjust their expectations.
A fellow mom of special needs kids once said to me, “There is nothing endearing about our children’s special needs. People don’t look at their behaviors with compassion or empathy”. And it’s all too true.
Special Needs Children Grow Up to Be Special Needs Adults
Our children with special needs are growing up. They aren’t so “cute”. What people tolerate in a preschooler is vastly different than what people tolerate in a high schooler.
Watching a teenager throw a chair, punch a hole in a wall, or slam a door so hard it comes off of its hinges does not inspire empathy in people. When your sweet baby or active toddler transforms into a teen, a shift takes place. A crying baby elicits sympathetic looks. A toddler throwing a tantrum? Sure, sure you might get a few dirty looks, but people can relate. A teen who refuses to leave a store because you won’t let him buy the video game he wants? A teen with a hoodie over his head (to block out sensory input), a scowl on his face, arms crossed (once again, due to sensory issues) refusing to cooperate? One look at my son in that state and you see rebellious, disrespectful teen.
Not an overstimulated kid with autism, overcome by paralyzing anxiety, and with the emotional age of a child half his chronological age.
Empathy Can Be Hard to Come By When Your Special Needs Child Looks “Normal”
My son looks perfectly “normal” and sometimes I think that is his biggest handicap. When people ask him questions, and he refuses to make eye contact or respond, he looks like he is ignoring them. He doesn’t understand the subtleties of social interactions which can leave him laughing at the wrong time. Glancing at a room full of people, you would not pick my son out of the crowd. Spend some time trying to interact with him, or see him on a bad day, and it’s a different story altogether.
My son’s issues are complicated. Even the experts aren’t sure how to help him. Every day is a struggle in our home. New challenges arise regularly. I don’t have a roadmap. There are no books to offer guidance for my son’s specific combined needs. Growing older simply means life gets harder.
For him, and for those who love him.
So here’s my advice, as a mom who’s kids with special needs look “normal”.
Always choose kindness.
Offer a smile, not judgment.
Say a prayer when you see a family struggling.
Remember, you never know what challenges other people face.
Please share if you know someone who would enjoy reading this.
You might also be interested in reading The Stigma of Hidden Special Needs.