On Mother’s Day, 2002, we began an unknown journey with our youngest daughter, Hannah. She was four years old and we had finally determined that she has autism. Not the grandest way to spend Mother’s Day, believe me.
I wrestled with many things over the next few years. And if you were to ask me, What are the top three words of advice you would share out of those struggles?”, here is what I would tell you: Be intentional; Do your research; Rest in God’s plan.
In the paragraphs below, I talk about living with a special needs child. You may be dealing with a parent or a spouse with special needs during this season in your life. No matter what special needs you may face, these principles would be my counsel to you.
When your child is diagnosed with a special need, it’s easy to adopt a victim mentality. You feel like something that isn’t supposed to happen has happened to you, and you can’t do anything about it.
But a victim mentality is not what is best for your family or your children. So in this, as well as in other circumstances, think things through and do what will be best. Just as in other areas of parenting, we must make sure we are not operating out of a default mentality (following the crowd and mindlessly doing what everyone else is doing) or a survival mentality (recklessly doing whatever it takes to survive until the hard times suddenly go away).
You can still be an intentional parent to a special needs child. In fact, our special children need intentional parents all the more.
Do Your Research
The second piece of advice I would share is to do your research. If you don’t know about something, go read, think, and learn. Educate yourself. Dedicate yourself to learning about all the facets of your child’s situation and exploring the pros and cons to all the options you discover.
Listen to others, yes, but don’t assume they know best. Think about what they say, learn all you can, seek God’s guidance, and then do what will be most beneficial for your child.
Not everyone will understand. Not everyone will agree. But if you have done your research and prayed for wisdom, you can move forward with confidence.
Rest in God’s Plan
The third piece of advice I would share is to encourage you to rest in God’s plan for your family. During that first year after Hannah’s diagnosis, we had to severely limit our activities. We couldn’t go on field trips anymore, because Hannah couldn’t handle it. We couldn’t have company over anymore, because we were focused on Hannah’s daily therapy. There are still limits that we deal with today because of those special needs.
As moms tend to do, I began to be concerned about my other children. I began to view the special needs as a problem that was hindering them and could possibly ruin their lives. But God graciously showed me that our situation was not a mistake for any person in our family. He was still very much in control, and He had plans for the other children just as much as He had plans for me on this journey.
Over the years I’ve seen the other children grow in many beautiful ways and develop specific character traits that are a direct result of living with a special-needs sister.
So don’t fret about what the special needs or limitations are doing to the other children. God is big enough to include them in His plan. He has it all worked out. Trust Him and watch what He will do.
Encouragement for Parents
One of the hardest parts about that first year after Hannah’s diagnosis was dealing with the spiritual struggles. I could find books that recommended different therapies, and I saw several books that told other families’ stories, but I couldn’t find the encouragement that I needed to address the spiritual abyss I felt like I was in.
During that year God had orchestrated circumstances so that I was already reading through the Bible. And as I continued that schedule, He was faithful to speak to my various needs and questions through His Word. I recorded that spiritual encouragement in a journal and have made it available for other parents who may be on a similar journey: This Anguishing Blessed Journey.
Also, I’ve pulled several key points from that book and combined them into an article called “Lessons from the Valley.” You can read it free on our Web site.
Dealing with special needs is never an easy path. Yet we can rest on God’s promise that this, too, is for our good. As we walk down that path, holding tightly to His hand, we will also begin to see how it is for His glory.