According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2017), in 2015, the number of children and youth ages 3–21 receiving special education services was 6.6 million, or 13 percent of all public-school students.
My 9 year old son Bryson is one of them.
My son was diagnosed with Intellectual Disability (ID) which is a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills. Bryson has mild ID which is someone with a low IQ score (around 70) as well as poor adaptive behaviors that cause him to have educational problems. He is 2 to 4 years behind in cognitive development which include math and language difficulties, a shorter attention span, memory loss, and a delay in speech development.
Bryson was 2 years old when I noticed that he was not behaving and reaching milestones at the same pace as his peers. He was not verbally communicating, instead, he would point to what he wanted. It was not until Bryson was 3 that he began saying his first words. His words were very choppy and ineligible . From the age of 3 until he reached grade school, he was receiving speech and occupational therapy to assist with his language and fine motor development. His fine motor skills improved significantly overtime. He became a very good writer and began enjoying anything that required him to use his hands. When he was 6 his occupational therapist determined that he no longer needed services due to self-sufficiency, but he is currently still receiving speech therapy services.
Being a parent has its own set of challenges naturally, but raising a child with special needs are another set of challenges. I do not speak for all special needs parents, but below are a few things I experience and know other parents who have experienced them as well:
1) Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. It's a nursery rhyme that insinuates that people cannot hurt you with the bad things they say about you! FALSE! I cannot recall the number of times I went to bed with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes over the names I've heard others call Bryson. “Retarded”, “Slow”, just to mention a few. People laugh and joke when they use these names, not knowing the psychological impact it has on the parent and child that you're speaking of. God forbid, the child can comprehend what's being said, the pain they must feel. It's not only disrespectful, but it's a pain that cuts deep especially when the name calling is coming from those closest such as family or friends.
2) Everyone is a SUPER parent and can give you advice on your child! I have received a lot of unsolicited advice from other parents who have never encountered a special needs child. It has caused me to really pick my battles! ID does affect Bryson's behavior at times and believe me, Bryson knows not to play with me, but I also know what he has and does not have control over. He can become overly stimulated and frustrated causing him to have emotional breakdowns. He can say things that do not make sense during that present conversation, but to be honest, it's been times I wanted to go off on everybody who offered unsolicited advice. "He cries too much. He is too old to be doing that, or he should know how to do x, y, and z." Society has created these milestones for children to reach by a certain age, but when a child fails to reach them at the appropriate time then it must be something wrong with the parents or the child. I will never forget when Bryson was maybe, 6 or 7, he was struggling to tie his shoelaces. He ties them now, but it can take him some time to do so, which can take patience for him and I . My son is tall for his age, so he looks much older than he is. One time while I was assisting him, a gentleman approached us and said, "He is too old for you to be still tying his shoes!" I looked at him, oh if looks could do damage, and did not utter a word. I remained silent because on the inside I was breaking down, I was feeling ashamed and embarrassed because Bryson should be tying his own shoes, but again unsolicited advice. This man didn't know the challenges Bryson faces daily to accomplish simple tasks such as tying his shoes. Moving forward, if you offer advice do so in love and hopefully with understanding of the situation at hand. If you don't understand, then please, keep quiet.
3) I get jealous. There were times that I would purposely not get on social media when report cards came around because every parent was posting how well and awesome their children were doing in school. Bryson is on an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meaning his grade level work is modified to meet his level of comprehension and understanding. The grading system is different. He is given modified tests. At times, I would become jealous of my friend’s children because Bryson is not a reading pro, doing addition, subtraction, or multiplication, or figuring out word problems, YET, but I had to stop being ashamed and embraced his God giving talents and abilities! I stopped focusing on his weaknesses and began celebrating his strengths. As parents, we want the best for our children and want them to surpass our accomplishments, but that's not always the case! Now, I celebrate when he reads a full sentence without stopping to ask me for help. I celebrate when he figures out problems on his own even if they are simple. I celebrate every victory because if no one else celebrates him, he knows I will!
4)I grow weary! I know what the scripture says, but truth be told, there are many nights I go to sleep with tears in my eyes, STILL, to this day! I cry. I wonder why. I beat myself up and ask what am I doing wrong? As much progress as Bryson has made, I still must accept the fact that he MAY always be, behind his peers. I become tired and frustrated at times because I do not want Bryson to struggle throughout his academic years into adulthood. I want him to become a man of God! Live independently, married, if that's the Lord's will, successful, and happy! I want the best for him, that sometimes I get a little worried thinking about his future. I'm human! I'm human! I'm HUMAN! I trust God and His plans for our lives, however I would be lying if I said on those challenging days that Bryson and I have if I don't wonder, God what will he become?
5)Raising a child with special needs is not easy, but I know that God does not make mistakes and He has a purpose for us all! Praying is honestly what keeps me sane and staying at the feet of Jesus! He knew I had the patience, strength, and an understanding heart, but most importantly LOVE to parent Bryson! I always say be kind because you never know the challenges that someone is facing! Many people don't know what Bryson and I go through daily to accomplish simple tasks because his disability isn't physically noticeable. At times, I must remove myself from people who don't understand because I don't want their ignorance to be projected onto Bryson.
6)Maximize your child's potential by focusing on their strengths. To know my child is to know that he loves to sing and dance. He can learn any song or new dance and he executes it with so much passion and rhythm. He sings in the church choir, although he does not read the lyrics of the songs, he takes the time to listen to the lyrics and memorizes it! Bryson is such a social butterfly that he interacts and loves on everyone! You can't be around him without laughing and smiling at his jokes, dances, and loving attitude towards life.
I conclude this to say, children with special needs only want to be loved and accepted. Special needs parents only want the support of those closest to them. Just imagine the weight that's on their backs! There are many parents who carry the burden of shame and guilt, blaming themselves for their child's diagnoses. I openly and transparently wrote this to be a voice to these parents because I know it gets hard sometimes, but speak life over your children! Encourage and uplift them because the world beats them up enough! God assigned our children to us, therefore, we must be their comforters and protectors! Whenever I become discouraged I turn to this quote and these three scriptures to uplift me and I pray they do the same for you:
"We hurt for our kids and would take their pain if we could, knowing each day, that is not possible. So instead we bury our pain and we fight. We fight for their chances. For their happiness. For their acceptance. We’re resilient. We’re fragile and strong, advocates and comforters. I see you special needs parent. Keep going!" - Julia Roberts
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 NLT
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NLT
“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT