When you have a child with special needs, it is very easy to just focus on the challenges. Everyday life is harder for parents of kids who are unique and complicated. On the really dark days, it is very hard to see the silver lining. But raising a neuroatypical child has made my life richer in several significant ways and I am grateful for them.
1. Sensory kids see the world differently from their neurotypical parents and peers.
Sensory kids are so highly or loosely tuned that their bodies absorb and use information that neurotypical kids do not observe and receive. If you read biographies of famous actors, musicians, and artists, it becomes abundantly clear that they were experts in their fields because of undiagnosed sensory issues. Often labeled as “quirky” or “eccentric”, these people were left to create masterworks.
My daughter’s unique wiring results in hypersensitive vision. She can spot an ant on the ground from a room away. This vision also helps her see the tiniest details in a piece of art or a picture. She will pull me in to point out something incredible that changes my entire view of what we are looking at. Without her incredible vision, I would miss the minute visual cues that make the world a more beautiful place.
My daughter’s unique wiring has also gifted her with a photographic memory. Besides the obvious bonus of never having to remember where I leave anything when she is around, it has many other benefits. Her incredible memory stores every aspect of life, so we never miss out on anything. It means that she gets excited about where we are going before we even get near the parking lot because she remembers what the street looks like from the last time we visited. It means that she is so aware of what is going on around her that she makes me stop what I am doing to be present. There are times when I am rushing and she forces me to slow down and look. Moments of beauty happen when you slow down and look.
2. Having a child with SPD has helped me learn how to say no.
Prior to the birth of my daughter, I was a “yes” girl. I said those three letters to everything that came my way, afraid that I would be left behind if I said no. I was often overworked and stressed out because I did not leave room for downtime in my schedule.
It doesn’t take long for a sensory parent to realize that type of schedule is not going to work for your child. Sensory kids need a lot of rest, a lot of time to regulate and a predictable routine. They need their parents to learn how to say no so their bodies can function. We now very carefully select what we say yes to. We weigh what our options are and then choose the one activity that best suits our family’s needs. And then, when it happens, we enjoy it. Every minute of it is special and cherished because we have carefully chosen it and are prepared to be successful. The rest of the family is now also better rested and balanced because by creating a life that helps the child we love, we have also put in place restorative practices for ourselves.
3. I am fully confident she will achieve her goals in life.
In her mere five years on Earth, my child has been to 11 different types of providers. We could be the “Angie’s List” for health professionals in our region because we have seen them all. Every achievement has been a hard fought battle. The result? Out of this struggle has developed one of the most focused, determined human beings I have ever met. I have no doubt she will succeed in life. Her struggles form the basis of her strength. We have given her the tools to do so, and she is learning more every day how to adjust and advocate for her unique needs. Sensory Processing Disorder has made her mighty.
4. Parents of children with disabilities make the best friends.
When you have a child whose disability is not visible on the surface, you are constantly peppered with questions. People can’t believe that all you go through is true. They frequently say, “Oh, but I think all kids at that age do ________.” Meanwhile, you know that if their child did what your child does, they would be just as frantic as you are right now.
Other parents of special needs kids don’t ask questions. They get the frustrations and constant monitoring that comes with having a child with unique needs. You never have to apologize for canceling, leaving early or bringing your own food (although out of habit, you will) because they get it.
Quick to offer opinions on providers and only offer suggestions when asked, parents of atypical children understand the importance of a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. They get what it is like to lay awake worrying about what comes next. They get what it is like to stand on the playground and cry because your 5-year-old finally can get on a swing by herself. Most of the time, they are standing next to you crying, too. Your child’s success is as tear-inducing as their own.
5. She has made me a better human.
My daughter feels every emotion in the most extreme fashion. The world is frequently scary and deafening, but it can also be beautiful. When she is excited or happy, her body vibrates. When she is scared or overstimulated, energy shoots through her body like needles and she feels physical pain. As her mother, I get to see the world through her eyes in a way that I can’t myself because I am neurotypical. It is incredible, and I have a full appreciation of why her little body tires out and falls apart so often after important events. Bodies are not meant to work at that elevated state for long extended periods of time.
Having a child with SPD has also made me stop judging other human beings. It has made me stop from shooting annoyed, judgmental looks at random strangers with squawking kids in the grocery store. It has made me more humble, open, and honest about our personal struggles. I no longer am afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is now a sign of strength. Understanding other views and appreciating people for who they are at this moment is now the focus of my life. I laugh a lot more, I cry a lot more and I now try to stop for a moment to think before I speak.
I encourage you to take a moment and press pause. Pour yourself a drink of your choice and ponder this question: what is great about having a family member or being a person with a disability? For one moment, let’s reframe the discussion around our children, our loved ones, and ourselves. What good has come from our difficult journeys that couldn’t have happened if we hadn’t started down this path?
You might be surprised by what you find.
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