5 Things I’ve Learned About Kids with Special Needs

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Whether you have a child, or work closely with a child, that has Down Syndrome, Autism, Aspergers, or any other type of disability, you know that your child has amazing potential. We have had the privilege of being able to raise one of these special little guys and have learned so much along the way. Here is just a small list of the things we have learned about kids with special needs:

Kids with special needs just want to feel loved and accepted.

Sometimes we forget that they actually have feelings and want to have friends too. They get sad when they are left out and want to feel that they are accepted for who they are. We have always shown Joshua more love than he could ever need and in return, he is one of the most lovable kids we have. He always wants to hug whoever he is with and loves knowing he has made us happy. We want him to always know that we love him for who he is and we don’t wish him to be someone he isn’t. Some kids are not very affectionate, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need love. Shower them with as much love as they can take anyway and fill up their little love tanks. They need it.

Kids with special needs can teach us more than we can teach them.

I am not saying that you don’t need to send kids to school so they can learn. School has been amazing for him! But, In our experience with Joshua, we have learned more about life than we would have ever known if he was a typical child. We have learned that there are so many amazing, giving, and caring people that have journeyed this road before us and really want to help those who are just starting to try to figure it out. We have gained a new appreciation for how awesome people with special needs really are. I used to see them in the grocery store and would smile as I walked past and think how hard their life must be and completely miss how rewarding their lives really are. Some lessons are harder than others, like patience and perseverance, but when they finally grasp a concept or master a new skill, it makes us want to throw a party to celebrate their success. These kids have a better work ethic than most of us and don’t give up easily when they can’t figure something out.

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Kids with special needs are smart.

Most people assume that special needs kids aren’t able to learn what typical kids can, but I have learned that is so wrong. All kids learn at different speeds, so don’t underestimate their ability or put restraints on what you think they are capable of learning…they may surprise you. My family was friends with Dick and Rick Hoyt. Rick has CP, is confined to a wheelchair and can’t speak. He and his dad were famous for running marathons and tri-athalons together…(If you want a tear jerker, Watch this video) When Rick was born, his parents were told to put him in an institution because he wouldn’t amount to much but his parents knew that he was worth the hard work. He eventually received a communication board that could speak for him after he spelled out the words. He was able to converse by spelling everything he needed. He graduated from high school and college! Inside, Rick was very smart, just stuck in a body that wouldn’t allow him to move very much or talk.

Kids with special needs, want you to learn how to communicate with them.

I’m not saying you have to learn a new language, although in our case, we did learn sign language. When many kids with special needs try to communicate they aren’t always able to convey exactly what they mean even if they do speak. This is where patience and a little effort to understand how the child learns and express their needs comes into play. Some children can get “set off” by certain things or sounds and knowing how to prepare for and handle those situations can make life so much easier. I’m not saying you can prevent every issue but taking time to figure out what makes each kid “tick” can be extremely beneficial.

Kids with special needs are worth it!

Having a child with any kind of special need or delay you know that sometimes life is down-right exhausting. (If you missed it check out Saving Houdini) There are so many appointments, specialists, therapies, meetings for school, etc, but all of that hard work and time spent is rewarded when we see our kids accomplish the things we have worked so hard to help them achieve. People with disabilities can lead very productive lives. Many go on to college and even get married. It’s amazing what a little time and love poured into a person can do. Many parents would even tell you that, if they had the choice, they wouldn’t want to change their child.

(Obviously, I am not an expert in the field, nor do I know what every special need kids’ ability is, I’m just speaking from our daily experience with a child with Down Syndrome.)

Saving Houdini

Our son, Joshua, just celebrated his 5th birthday in December….honestly, we were surprised he got this far. This boy has a knack for finding danger and mischief, no matter where he is. We lovingly refer to our home as Fort Knox and when friends come over they have to ask what alarms are still activated for fear of being given a heart attack while opening our refrigerator to get a drink.

This child can also literally disappear in a split second, no lie! I will be watching him like a hawk, look away for a split second and the kid is gone. And he’s smart. He will be watching you and the minute your eyes leave him, he bolts….right for the nearest exit. People probably think we are crazy as we race after him and scoop him up before he runs out the nearest door.

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(This was the day Joshua learned to drag a bench from the table to undo the chain lock)

Back to Fort Knox….our house has obnoxious alarms on every exit, as well as the refrigerator and stove. All bathroom doors, the pantry, the door to the boiler and the closet we store decorations in, all have hotel style chain link locks. For those of us who are tall enough, we can reach our hand around the door and either lock or unlock them. Even with the best security, Joshua will be watching and when of those doors should be left unlocked, he makes his move. Just this past week, his brother grabbed the stool from the bathroom to reach something in the kitchen and left it unlocked…a split second later I heard the toilet flush and raced in to see my phone making it’s way down the hole.

For a while we tried velcro to keep him from being able to get in the fridge but John had a hard time getting what he wanted because he couldn’t reach the velcro to undo it. Then we tried to tie something around the handles and that was more of a no-win situation as well since no one could ever get the knots undone. Now we have the alarm, but when that doesn’t get turned back on, we find Joshua grabbing the milk and pouring it all over the floor. He merely climbs up all the shelves in the fridge to reach what he wants and throws it out so he can retrieve it when he climbs down.

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The stove has the same problem. We even took the oven door handle off so he couldn’t open the door. It makes trying to open the door with a casserole in your hand rather challenging but somehow the kid can still easily open it. One day, I had just put dinner in the oven and ran to help another child put shoes on (literally gone less than a minute) and I found Joshua standing on the open oven door climbing onto the stove top. He never wears shoes in the house, but thankfully that day he had shoes on. The oven was at 375 and the kid didn’t seem fazed!

I honestly always feel anxious when we have to take him out in public because I cannot control the situation. When we go anywhere I always survey the exits and areas where he could disappear for the chance that he might get out of my sight and I have to pick a place to look first. My husband has told me many stories of me, talking in my sleep and hitting him while yelling, “where is Joshua?!”

I honestly always thought that people with Down Syndrome were very calm and went where they were told (I’ve seen them in the grocery store and they always stay with the person they are with….I’ve never seen one running away down an aisle while laughing and yelling)….boy did I have that stereotype all wrong! This child has not stopped moving since he started walking at 22 months. When people ask how I stay so thin…my response is always, “Joshua!”.

So, I have yet to find a way to keep Houdini completely safe, other than follow him around all day (which I pretty much already do), but then again, it would be impossible to keep any kid out of harms way all the time. We are hopeful that, one day, he will slow down and allow us to actually sit down for a few minutes. Until then, we tell him that he’s lucky he’s so cute….

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