THE GIFTED CHILD
My journey as a special needs parent started almost 20 years ago when my eldest was identified as being highly gifted. He was holding full conversations at 18 months old, writing stories at two, reading Lord of The Rings at five.
The signs of autism were there, not only in his academic success, but also in his behaviour. We spent many hours at school interviews being told our child was naughty and simply did not fit in.
At nine years old our eldest son was diagnosed with autism, generalised anxiety disorder and depression. This was 14 years ago and I am proud to say he is now 23 years old and studying to become a teacher, lives in his own apartment and generally manages his own affairs.
However, our journey doesn’t end yet. It was actually just beginning. Over the next several years we were blessed with four more children, two of which have also been diagnosed with autism.
For James, our third child, the suspicions that something wasn’t quite right started around the age of three. He would line toys up in rows, his speech was difficult to understand and he spoke with a strong American accent despite never having travelled there.
He was diagnosed with autism at age four and, we were, once again, caught up in the seemingly never-ending specialist appointments and therapy sessions.
Fast-forward six years and James is currently in grade five. He attends the mainstream classroom with an aide and has a modified curriculum. He is popular, happy and, most importantly, he loves school. Without the support of our school we could have had a very different outcome.
One year ago, we found ourselves venturing down the familiar path again, this time with our six-year-old son, Nicholas.
But as you would expect by now, I am an old hand at this autism thing so we once again adjusted our sails and just got on with it.
PARENTING SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
Like all parents, I worry my children will not be accepted or will be bullied for being different. I worry about their future. I worry about what other people assume about our family when they witness our child’s more challenging day or behaviours.
“…But I believe we are never burdened with more than we can handle so I am sure there is a reason I have been blessed with these amazing children.”
The challenge for special needs parents is to remember that no one can be a superhero all the time. You need to allow yourself to feel weak, to break down and to grieve. You need to allow yourself to be real.
Ask for help, find your tribe, your village or that loyal friend, to prevent exhaustion and isolation.
We all have those ‘why me?’ moments. Just try not to dwell in that space for too long. Go and hug your children. Or, take a look in the mirror and remember you have been specially chosen to help your child navigate this wonderful life.
Although it can be hard, being a special needs parent also brings with it great joy. Parenting our children provides us with an opportunity to learn compassion, understanding and kindness. We never take the little things for granted – a word, a smile, a step, a hug and an “I love you, Mum”. These small achievements are an opportunity for great celebration, remind us to count our blessings and allow us to experience gratitude in a whole new way.
Nobody is prepared for the emotions that come with being a special needs parent but in our family, we love our life, we love each other and we all fit together in our own chaotic way. I do my best to ensure my children learn to love themselves and to follow their dreams. The journey might take a bit longer, but we will get there.