My husband and I have three children. Our oldest is eight and in third grade. She has Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) which mimics Autism, in that she is incapable of reading social cues, doesn’t understand body language, is impulsive and most importantly, has a hard time forming appropriate attachments.

This diagnosis sparked fear in me—and questions, so many questions. Will she be OK in school? Will she ever make real friends? Will I ever have a bond with her? Will she be able to go to college? This fear was overwhelming.

But then, her therapist reminded me that she is so much more than this disorder.

She is also bright and spunky, determined and very, very active. She loves to be with her friends. She is smart and caring. She is nurturing. She is more than her disability. She is still herself. Nothing had changed.

Here’s the thing—she is THAT child. You know the one . . . the one who bosses your kids around, and takes charge of every single play date. The one who demands her cookie NEVER touch the grapes. The one who, and don’t lie, makes you cringe when she shows up at your door. I know this is happening. I still send her out the door with, “Have her mommy text me if you can play!” I still hope she doesn’t come home in an hour, sad that “Susie was being mean.” Because I know that Susie was not being mean; she simply did not want to play the same way my daughter did—but my child doesn’t know that.

Luckily, over the last three years at school, my daughter has connected with her classmates in a way that I never thought was possible. She is not only tolerated, most days she is welcomed with open arms and smiles. The parents are amazing. They are helpful and kind and I am so grateful to them. They include her, even though she can be a handful. It is is something I never thought would happen, seeing her spend so much time and build relationships with her closest friends.

We are working at our bond, and growing closer each and every day. I have struggled with putting aside time that is just for the two of us, a rare occurrence when you have two other children in the home. But we try to do it once a month. Other times, even just a few minutes of check-in time daily has really helped. She is smiling more. She has developed coping skills to help her recognize her symptoms. She is doing better in school. Her transformation from the angry child of a few months ago has been fantastic. She is doing so much better.

Yesterday I watched as she read story after story to her brother, and whispered “I love you” as she tucked him in. I felt a peace I have not had in a long time. She’s got this. She will move mountains because she knows she can. She will grow and become an amazing woman.

Her diagnosis does not define her, and even though it is something I struggle with, I am still learning.

She’s got this. We all do.

Debbie Smith

Debbie Smith lives in Montana with her husband and three children. She is a mom first, and a writer second.