This one is for every momma and daddy chosen by God for special assignment.
The parents of the kids who live/learn/look different than most. (You know, the ones the playground bullies call misfits or freaks… or worse.)
The parents of students too often perceived as slow or stupid, deemed “unable” or “disabled” and marginalized in many of the fine arts, athletic and extracurricular opportunities afforded most kids. (Which makes them feel – nearly every day – less than.)
The parents of the ones targeted by verbal abusers, who hear the “R” word on the regular, who grow accustomed to sitting alone, staying quiet, staring at their shoes. The kids trying to survive school (days… years), sometimes without a single true friend.
This is for every mom who’s had to leave a public place mid-errand because her daughter – diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder – had a full-scale meltdown due to impulse control problems, sensory overload or debilitating anxiety.
Every dad who spends hours shooting hoops with his son – diagnosed with an emotional and behavioral disorder – because none of the neighbor kids invite him to play. Ever.
Every mom who makes three different meals for her kids because they have different diagnoses – oral-motor difficulties and sensory processing disorder – and their tastes, texture responses and chew/swallow capabilities vary widely.
Every dad who spends hours each week helping his adult son – diagnosed with dyspraxia – shave his face because fine motor problems make that task nearly impossible. (Or a bloody mess.)
Every set of parents who has spent countless hours caring/comforting/correcting/ protecting/advocating/intervening/teaching/researching/scheduling and meeting with doctors, therapists, psychologists, special educators, social workers and tutors so their child can know his worth, find his way and reach his potential… or “just keep swimming” upstream in the mainstream.
This one’s for you, weary momma. (You too, sleep-deprived daddy.)
I see you. I get it. I’ve been there. Right where you’re standing. Or kneeling.
(Or curling up in a fetal position.)
On hard, holy ground.
And here’s what I want you to know, love.
You’re not alone.
And neither is your kid.
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… Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)
Thank God. Help is (on) the Way.
March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. And here’s what all of us parents of autistic and developmentally-disabled kids wish everyone else knew:
Every kid has special needs. Our kids’ needs aren’t more or worse. They’re just different.
Our kiddos get hurt when your kiddos whisper, point, stare and/or steer clear of them. Encourage your kids to get to know ours. (Start here: Smile. Say hi. Sit nearby.)
Just because our kiddos struggle with social cues doesn’t mean they don’t want friends. And it also doesn’t mean they’re oblivious to teasing, taunting and other mistreatment. No one should ever be called a “retard” or a “reject.”
Our kids may not be able to do what your kids can do. But they are extraordinary too… and able. Able to connect. And care. Able to feel. And fill a place in this great big world that no one else ever could. Able to learn and laugh and love (BIG). Able to find joy in the simplest things. Able to reflect beauty and bravery with stunning clarity.
The bottom line is this:
A diagnosis or disability shouldn’t define a person.
Labels are for clothes, containers and canning jars… not people.
People are God’s masterpieces, that’s why.
For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. ~ Ephesians 2:10 (AMP)
Exquisitely created by God. Made for good works… and meant for the good life.
All of us.
Not just those who sit still or speak clearly or happen to perform well on standardized tests.
Our incredibly special kiddos want to be seen, not stared at. Heard, not hushed. Treasured, not tolerated.
If we want to be more like Jesus, we need to celebrate every kind of diversity. Developmental, intellectual, chromosomal, and cognitive too.
Because wonder comes in all kinds of packages.
(And God doesn’t make mistakes.)
“Learning differences” doesn’t simply mean hidden strengths or undervalued abilities. It means unique perspectives, priorities, vision, and passion.
A fresh outlook. Invaluable insight. Infinite worth.
Because God said so.
And just like He does, we ought to cherish our children. Celebrate the best in them (and bear the worst). Embrace the possibilities. Affirm all the divinely-appointed potential.
Let’s keep encouraging, uplifting, applauding.
Let’s give blessings and big hugs and high fives.
Let’s savor every step and stride. (Each one is a tiny-but-mighty miracle.)
Let’s treasure every triumph… and honor every tear. Like our Father does.
You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book. ~ Psalm 56:8 (TLB)
Our God sees, knows, cares… comforts.
My son has a laundry list of diagnoses, but none of them mean anything to him. Or us. Zack is funny and fiercely loyal. Passionate and particular. Humble and kind.
Zack is adamant about fairness… but he’s also the first to forgive when he gets shafted or shorted. Zack is strong and healthy… but he cares deeply about the weak, the sick, the suffering. Zack knows the power of words. He feels (deeply) every blessing. And curse.
He’s a big fan of college sports, country music, cheeseburgers and naps. And he’s good at putting things together.
When he was little, it was 100-piece Thomas the Tank Engine puzzles. And now it’s electrical and industrial pre-fab assemblies. He’s good at this stuff. Really good. Come to think of it, he’s a lot like the LORD that way. Taking things in pieces… or falling apart… and putting them back together. (Like Father, like son.)
But you know what Zack really wants?
He wants his life to count. Wants to contribute and connect. With God and other people.
Despite his learning disabilities, Zack is a gifted teacher. He taught me how to be a mom. He guided me away from controlling tendencies and conditional love and toward faith and compassion. He tutored me in persistence and patience. (And yes, he tested it too.) Honestly… Zack has taught me more about mercy and goodness and good humor than any professor, pastor, teacher or counselor I’ve ever had.
To me, Zack isn’t “special needs.”
He’s especially needed.
In our family.
And in the world.
Z ~ I love you all the way up to heaven and back a million zillion times.
P.S. If you or someone you love is a young adult who lives with the label “autistic” or “developmentally disabled” and wants to lose the label – and find an awesome community of friends and mentors, let me know. To learn more about our nonprofit, Seeds of Hope (which provides mentoring, vocational training and jobs for young adults like Zack), please visit our website.