Exactly 12 years ago, 12 words from an ultrasound technician changed our lives forever: "I'm going to get the doctor. There's something wrong with your baby."
Although Owen’s diagnosis did not result in premature death, it has made life challenging. Kelly and I have learned much about what it means to be entrusted by God to take on the task of raising a child who has special needs. We have also fallen in love with hundreds of families who are on the same journey. So, when we planned this blog series, we decided to wrap it up with a post directed to these wonderful families.
When it comes to raising kids with special needs, much of what was written in this series applies to families like ours. However, there are a few more points to remember if you’re raising a child with special needs.
Bring your child to Jesus
Your most important objective is to bring your kid to Jesus. Do whatever you can to instill faith in her heart. Tell Bible stories. Sing Bible songs. Teach her to pray. Show her grace, mercy, patience, and forgiveness. Her special needs likely require much of your time and attention. However, don’t neglect her heart. She needs Jesus more than anything else you can give her.
“But,” you might wonder, “what if she isn’t capable of understanding about Jesus?” To this I would say two things.
First, don’t underestimate what she can comprehend. You never know what she’s soaking in, but it’s probably more than you know. Second, even if your child’s special needs are so great that she really cannot understand, she will still benefit from being placed at Jesus’ feet. He will receive her with outstretched arms. And, Jesus will embrace you along the way too. Your efforts will not be wasted.
Be your child’s voice
Do not feel guilty for advocating for your child. My wife has helped me to understand this: we are our son’s voice. If you are raising a child with special needs, you are his voice.
When you’re raising a child with special needs, everything feels like a fight. You fight to get him into the right specialist. You fight to get the right goals on his individualized education plan. You fight to get him involved in settings that will help him build social skills. And, you fight to help friends and family understand his needs.
When you have to fight this much, everything can begin to seem like a fight. Keep fighting. You are your son’s voice. He may not be able to express what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, or what he needs. You must speak up for him. Even if you have to be clearer, more persistent, and more firm than you should have to be, do it with gentleness and respect. You represent your Savior to the people on the other side of the table and your child is watching. You won’t be perfect but set a Christ-like example. If you have to lose it, just make sure you do it around people who understand. That leads me to my last point.
Don’t walk alone
Some of the loneliest people I know are parents of special needs children. When so many forces push you to the margins, it’s easy to go the rest of the way and seclude yourself. Let me assure you, despair is all there is at the end of Isolation Road.
If you want to raise your daughter and give her the best chance at a full life, you must give yourself the same opportunity. Instead of withdrawing, connect. Don’t give up until you find others who understand. You’ll know when you’ve arrived when you’re in a social setting and you realize that you don’t have to explain or apologize for your daughter’s special needs.
Kelly and I have come to realize that “our people” are others who have children with special needs. We’ve been intentional about finding and nurturing these relationships. For example, all six of the families in our Life Group have at least one child with special needs. When we meet, it’s loud, chaotic, and sometimes comical, but it’s always wonderful. We refer to it as a glorious mess! And, in the midst of the mess, we’re finding the unconditional embrace of our Savior.
If you’re raising a child with special needs, you have been given a high and holy calling from your Savior. I know, sometimes that calling looks and feels a lot like a cross. Bear it. God will give you strength to stand up under the weight. Continue bringing your child to Jesus. Keep speaking up for her. And, find a few people who understand what you’re experiencing and lean on one another.
Need help? Learn more about our Perfect Fit ministry at PCC. Or, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 317.707.3845.