Child Journal Kids

Please Don’t Underestimate My Child With Special Needs

Written by Brynn Burger

Our family of four and our dog decided, after years of research, to give away over 80 percent of our belongings, sell our 15-acre farm, and downsize to a 36ft gooseneck trailer to live the tiny life. This minimalist approach was a positive for a lot of reasons, but our family was motivated by one thing: all of our research said simplistic living held great benefits for people with sensory, anxiety, and behavioral diagnosis—of which our then five-year-old son had all of the above.

There were a lot of things we’d done before our move to tiny living that those around us didn’t understand: chiropractic care, wellness professionals, holistic healers, essential oils, elimination diets, and CBD supplements. We had decided a year prior to begin medicating our son after coming to terms with our own fears and pride about children on prescription meds. We realized we were the ones getting in the way of our son’s ability to succeed.

I hope you don’t question how far my son can go in this life, because I certainly don’t.

Our now almost seven-year-old rambunctious ball of energy has a list of mental health diagnoses, yes. But those acronyms do not define him—they aren’t him.

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He is brilliant at math and very technical and engineering-minded. His brain works faster than any adult I’ve ever known. He is creative and hilariously funny. He can quote just about any movie after watching it once. And he is well-known for his athletic prowess when it comes to extreme sports like skateboarding, rock climbing, and bike tricks.

When others in public see our son in the midst of a meltdown, we receive many judgmental glances, and stares from innocent bystanders who would likely help if they had any idea what to do aside from pick their jaws up off aisle seven and move along. Some of his peers deem him bossy and controlling, or fail to identify with him because he wrestles with understanding jokes, sarcasm, and the ability to see past what is “fair”.

But I see a child. I see a boy who needs his mama to hold him—sometimes restrain him—as he desperately struggles to articulate his emotions. He often fails to breathe through his frustration when he cannot slow his brain down long enough to stammer out what he is trying to say. He is fighting himself inside because his impulses are just too great to overcome by himself.

I see a child, and he is mine.

You may be shocked to see me continue to count the bananas before loading them in my cart as I blissfully ignore my son’s bloodcurdling screams from the grocery cart as he kicks and thrashes around. I see myself breathing deeply and going somewhere else in my mind because that is his process and he is not harming himself or others. He will get there—to the place where he is calm and can verbalize what he is feeling—but talking to him now would be as effective as trying to negotiate with an alcoholic already three beers in at the bar.

You may look and see a blonde haired, blue-eyed all American kid with a summer tan line and a smile that his mama will have to worry about one day when he’s older. But you cringe as you hear him scream mean names, nasty comments, or blatant disobedience inches from my face. He spits and you pull back in horror.

I see a kid who has held it together through hours of school, a trip to the playground with his friends, and is now running errands with his mom and he just cannot hold it in for one more second. It has to come out and he knows he is safe with me. He knows his daddy and I will love him no matter what his body or his mind choose to do or to say. We are his safe place.

You may see a child who was removed from public school to “roadschool” (as we affectionately call it) and you wonder how he will ever “make it” with is behaviors, lack of impulse control, or what others have deemed a bad attitude.

I see a student who is now able to learn from lessons that are hands-on, that capitalize on his strengths and allow time for his weaknesses. I see a student who is excelling in unit studies that he has ownership in planning. I see a child who rises above the state standards of his peers because his lessons in roadschool are ones he deems as relevant to real life instead of things that previously bored him because the lack of resources provided to his teachers just didn’t allow them to meet his needs.

Don’t shortchange children with special needs. As their parents, we know what they are capable of and we can assure you that they were born with a story—a testimony of strength and the ability to overcome adversity. They are used to having their abilities questioned and those who are still able to rise above that lack of expectation and succeed are children who will grow up to change the world.

About the author

Brynn Burger

I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, a friend, a writer, a lover of all things outdoors, and sometimes a shell of my former self. Parenting a child with behavior disabilities has become both my prison and my passion. I write so I can breathe. This is my therapy. I hope that my violent vulnerability and use of humor will help you to power through this with me. It is the only way I know.