parenting kids with learning disabilities or special needsWhen groups of parents hang out or socialize, I’ve noticed that parents of kids with special needs or learning disabilities tend to find each other. It’s as if we have a homing signal that draws us together. We share something and understand things in a way that other parents sometime don’t get.

It doesn’t even have to be a life altering special need; it’s enough to be parenting a square peg in our round-hole world– the type of kid who just doesn’t fit the mold.

One of the things we get is the inherent “what if’s” and “what then’s” that seem to come with the territory of parenting a child that is “different”. The fears that wake us up at night with a grip of panic about what the future will bring for this child…  and also for us.

Author Elizabeth Stone said:

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Oh, how unbelievably true that is. Our hearts are walking around firmly attached to our children, and thus are subject to all the emotional bumps and crashes that life brings their way. And if you have a kid with special needs or learning disabilities there will be plenty of bumps and occasional crashes.

What I Worried About

I used to keep a journal, but found I only wrote in it when I awoke at night filled with worry. When I’ve gone back to reread parts of these journals, I saw that I mostly wrote about my kids, and especially my kids with learning disabilities. Would he go to college; would she be able to fulfill her dreams; would they have friends; would he find fulfilling employment; would they be happy.

What I’ve Learned

I don’t pretend to have the answers to how to parent kids who are different or struggle or have special needs, but since mine are older now, I find I worry less. When I awake fast forwarding into the future, I focus on the following thoughts.

  • Our fears are often based on what our kids are like right now projected into the future, failing to take into account that our child will grow, mature, and change. Our kids are more resilient and adaptable than we give them credit for—especially when we’re obsessing in the middle of the night.
  • We, as parents, adapt to the new reality as our kids age. Hard as it is to believe sometimes, we too are more resilient and adaptable than we give ourselves credit for—again, especially in the middle of the night.
  • Technology and medicine will advance, and our kids will be the beneficiaries.
  • The world is a big place with room for lots of different skills, talents, and personalities. There will be a place for our precious child.
  • Our idea of “success” might and likely won’t be their idea of success, and their idea will probably be realistic to their abilities.
  • The really awful things we obsess on can happen, but the truth is most often they don’t.

Good ole Yogi Berra, the source of such unintended wisdom, said it best: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” And I’d add: it ain’t what we’re afraid it’ll be either.

If you are parenting a square-peg-kid in this round-hole-world, how to you control the “what ifs” that attack in the middle of the night?

Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:

First published in 2012. Updted in 2016
Image credit: Lance Neilson