Sometimes I feel like an impostor in the special needs community. My children both have "invisible disabilities," in that most people would never know by looking at them that there's anything different about them. My children are extremely bright and gifted intellectually. They can walk, run, and otherwise move just like other children. They get excellent grades in school, participate in extra-curricular activities, and are completely typical kids for the most part. Spend some time with them, and you may see some little quirks or behaviors pop up, but nothing that says "special needs."
Sometimes, I see the ways that my kids are just like typically-developing kids, and I forget that I am part of the special needs community. Call it moments of denial, I guess--but it's also something more. I am just so used to the way my children react to, and interact with, and move through the world around them, that I don't see it as unusual anymore. Spinning, toe walking, chewing clothes, hands over ears, even meltdowns--they are common and expected when we are out in public. It's our "normal," if that makes sense. And, of course, I love them just the way they are, quirks and all. In fact, I value those qualities in them that would make them "special" as much as I value any of their other qualities. It's who they are!
But sometimes things happen to bring me back to reality, and assure me (or perhaps, remind me?) that we are indeed a special needs family. Friday was one of those days.
On Friday morning, I met with Squirrel's teacher to tell her about some of the challenges and issues that Squirrel has in the classroom. I told her how sometimes Squirrel falls out of her chair, and how she can never sit directly on her bottom, but is always on her knees, or on one foot, or in some other wacky position on the chair, because she's trying to find a position that gives her the best sensory input and helps her keep her balance. I told her how she fixates on a strange noise, or a smell, or a wonky fluorescent light, to the point that she stops hearing the teacher at all. I explained that she chews on everything, because it provides her with sensory input that allows her to focus better. And how she has trouble with oral directions because of auditory processing problems, and trouble with written directions because of visual-motor delays. And as the teacher expressed surprise and very honestly said she didn't know a lot of these things existed or could cause a child problems, I was reminded--I have a special needs child.
Later, I joined some friends for lunch at one of their homes. As all our children were playing outside together, and all the moms sat and visited, I realized I was the only one jumping up every few minutes to intervene or remind my son how to play appropriately. "No, Munchkin, we don't grab our friends. We need to take turns with the toy--give it back please. No, we don't knock someone down when they're in the way, we say 'excuse me.' Honey, he doesn't want a hug right now, please let him go." And I realized again--I have a special needs child.
We left there and stopped at the store to pick up a new bike for Squirrel. There we spent forty minutes carefully making our way through the store when the errand should have taken ten. But successful trips to the store for us involve allowing each child to touch and feel and look at and examine whatever they feel they need to touch, feel, look at or examine. It requires that we move along carefully so that Munchkin has time to react to each noise, since he hears them all and is trying to sort them out and make sense of them. It means fielding seventy-five requests from Munchkin to look at the Hotwheels aisle, and then waiting until he's had his fill of looking before moving on. To skip any of these steps will ensure a meltdown. And as I longingly wished that this errand could have been done later, without any children in tow, I had to acknowledge again--I have special needs children.
Finally, we ended up at swim lessons right before dinner. Although it was a beautiful, warm sunny day, it was also pouring down rain for most of the hour of swimming. (Very strange weather!) So I reassured Squirrel twenty times that it was safe to swim in the rain as long as there was no lightening. To no avail--she stayed anxious and couldn't wait to be done. And I knew it again.
But what really made this message hit home on Friday occurred while I watched the kids swim. There was a mom with a child not much younger than Munchkin--maybe four or five. He caught my eye because of the swim diaper sticking above his swim trunks as his mom coaxed him to jump in. I watched as he threw his hands over his ears when the lifeguard blew his whistle, and I saw him jump back when another child swam into him on accident. I watched him freak out when it started to rain and hide under the chair until he was ready to come out. I watched his mom pull double duty trying to give her other children the attention they wanted as they played in the pool and still keep an eye on her little boy. I saw her panic when she couldn't see him for a minute, then relax when she realized he had run over to the sand area. And I knew this little boy was just like Munchkin, and that was us just a year ago.
Then I thought, that's still us! We've just become more comfortable in our roles. Whatever each day brings, I do have children with special needs. We are indeed a part of the special needs community. And I embrace our place. I'm proud of my children. I'm proud to be able to advocate for them and for others in their situations. And I'm proud to be part of such an amazing, special group of parents as those who have children with special needs.