When you picture your future as a kid, teenager, or young adult, most of us picture perfection. A marriage to the spouse of our dreams, a house in the suburbs, good working vehicles, family vacations, and 2.5 perfect children. As we get to that point, however, we begin to realize that life doesn’t come in a perfect little package like that. Life is hard work! Relationships take effort, even if you are with your perfect partner. You have to work hard for the career you want and advance before you can afford that dream home and those nice cars and vacations. And then there are the kids. They don’t just come out perfect.
It takes a lot of work to raise a child, and a lot of personal decisions on how you are going to do so. Even those who may be aware of this, however, usually will imagine themselves having children who are healthy. It’s so easy to think “that will never happen to me” when you hear about children with health problems, autism, etc. The term Special Needs doesn’t come up when we are thinking and looking forward to our future children.
And yet, it happens.
My daughter was an easy baby. Everything came easily from sleep-training (okay, it didn’t seem so easy at the time!) to potty-training, to acclimating her to school. She was well-behaved, even mannered, smart, and eager to please. And, she still is! For those who have followed this blog from the beginning, you will be pleased to know that Leah has turned into a lovely young lady of almost 8 years. She plays sports, sings, acts, and does extraordinarily well in school.
And then there is Christopher. As an infant, he was a little trying. He didn’t sleep much, and he would ONLY breastfeed. No bottles, not even with my pumped milk. He was stubborn. As a toddler he was ornery, but it didn’t seem more so than any other one or two year old. However, as Christopher approached the age of three, my instincts were screaming at me that there was something more, something beyond ordinary toddler issues. He was continuing to throw tantrums, yet they seemed so much more intense than anything I had ever experienced. When Chris is happy, he can be the most joyful child in the world, but when he is unhappy look out! His emotions are wrought in intensity. His meltdowns were frequent, monumental, and could stem from nothing.
Last fall I made a decision to get some help. I wondered if I was more lenient with him, but when I would go over it in my head, it seemed apparent that he was getting the same upbringing as his sister. I thought that if I sought the assistance of a behavioral therapist I could learn some strategies to deal with his behaviors.
Let me just pause here to explain something- I was burnt out, yes. Every day was a struggle, a battle of wills with my son. But you all need to know that I ADORE this child. He is my son, and I saw every side of him. My biggest fear was the world would never see the joyful, funny, sweet side of my boy if they got too caught up in the other things.
The first appointment was just me and the therapist. When I sat down I didn’t know what to say. There was so much to my son, how could I begin to describe him? As I begun to talk, however, it got easier. The therapist nodded thoughtfully as I described my days with Chris. And then it happened; I began to hear about things such as Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. I began to hear about special needs, and IEP’s, and developmental pediatricians.
Chris has been in therapy for almost 6 months now and has made many strides. He isn’t as freaked out by certain textures as he used to be, but he continues to struggle with loud noises. His meltdowns are still intense, but they are becoming less frequent, and easier to calm. He also gets OT through the school district and has an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. I still have a lot of unanswered questions (he has no official diagnosis) and a lot of hard work ahead of me. You see, as the parent of a special needs child it will be my job to fight for him, to advocate for him to get whatever he needs. He is above average cognitively, a very smart little guy. Chris struggles mostly with anxiety and social behavior.
I am learning more every day. There is a lot to this, and I can’t possibly put it all into one blog post. But I just want you all to know that I get it now. No one has the picture perfect little family that we pictured for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are not rich and fulfilling. I would not change one thing about my son, even the challenges we face. We will face them together, head on. I will fight tooth and nail to get him whatever he needs to learn and have a good life. And, I will share my plight here, with you. If you are facing a similar situation, it so helps to know that you are not alone. Not everyone who sees your child have a meltdown is thinking that they are just a brat. I don’t. I get you. I see your child and I see your struggle. You are not alone.