In her book, Life WILL Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood and Behavior Challenges, Dr. Nicole Beurkens talks about the challenges of raising a child with special needs. Sure, there are the melt downs, the focus issues, the food allergies, the education road blocks, the social stumblings and the doctor’s visits (oh, man, the endless doctor’s visits) but there’s also a lot of to be grateful for. “Gratitude for extra life challenges?” you might moan. The short answer is, according to Dr. Beurkens, is “Yes.” While it’s not always easy to navigate down Special Needs Highway, the right attitude can land you in Life on Life Terms Avenue. And that destination, armed with the correct perspective, can bring an amazing sense of peace and purpose.
Here are just a few ways special needs can add, not detract, from your life as a parent.
- Gratitude: Having gratitude makes the simple things so much richer. Put another way, no matter how hard things are, focusing on what is going right is what makes the difference between a negative and positive experience. How many people do you know that have “normal” kids, but are miserable? Probably plenty. (Even if their Facebook posts don’t admit it!) Studies show that gratitude journals can literally rewire one’s brain and increase serotonin production. Your ability to remain positive will rub off on those around you, making everyone’s life richer. (All this because of special needs? Wait… there’s more!)
- New Relationships: You can moan about how much less time you have for yourself, or you can choose to use your challenging parenting experience as a way to meet new people. From support groups to meeting other like-minded parents at your child’s school or place of worship, special needs is a lovely invitation to connect with people you might never have known – and that experience can enrich your life ten-fold.
- Inner Strength: Getting a diagnosis you weren’t expecting is hard. You have to grieve the dream you had for your child’s life and accept a new path. It’s normal to feel sad but, if you’re open to change, it can also toughen you up in a good way. Transforming our thoughts and minds due to special needs creates an inner strength we didn’t know we had.
- Increased Funny Bone: What our children go through is never funny, but looking at life through the lense of humor can make all the difference. The stresses of ADHD, for example, can easily take the toughest parent down the rabbit hole of despair. But parents that see the silly side of the rabbit hole can fare very well. “Wow, it’s dark in here. It’s a mess. But look! Someone else is also in the hole! Let’s make animal ears with our flashlights!” Bottom line: There is no perfect life. Special needs is many of our tickets to accepting life on life’s terms – the good, the bad and the messy. The quicker we laugh at the insanity of it all the easier it will be for us to enjoy our lives.
- Empathy Building: In a world that insists on perfection, special needs teaches us that beauty is found in the quirks and the differences. Because of your experience with raising your own unique child, your journey of acceptance will shine like a light for others who are struggling to be themselves.
- New Skills: There’s nothing like changing course as a parent that will teach us to gain new skills. Many parents of special needs children have gone on to be educators in the special needs community. Others have gone to therapy to deal with the ever-changing needs of their child. In doing so, they tap into parts of themselves that had remained dormant until becoming a parent. Painful as it might be to explore these sides, often times people find these characteristics to be change makers for their careers and relationships. Had they never experienced special needs, they might never know what they were capable of.
Transformation Is Amazing
It’s been said that pain is the touchstone to growth. Like the Rolling Stones said so well, “We can’t always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we might just find, we get what we need.” May this be true of your journey with special needs. Remember – you are not alone. You can do this!