Parenting Invisible Special Needs
Anytime you are different, it is difficult in this world. Whether you look different, speak differently, dress differently, think differently, act differently, walk differently, etc., you are faced with challenges including external judgment and self-acceptance. The list can go on and on.
Being different, I believe, is something to celebrate. I am not one to follow the crowd and be like everyone else, but I also don’t like to stick out like a sore thumb either. That’s due to me being an introvert and not enjoying all eyes on me.
Sometimes being different is not a choice. It may or may not be celebrated, depending on the circumstance and environment.
I am a parent of children with special needs. Invisible special needs.
We can all agree there are some more obvious special needs children. Those in wheelchairs for example. It is a physical and visually identifiable special need. Because we can see it, we can therefore much more easily understand it’s existence. If we were to see someone in a wheelchair struggling to open a door or navigate a difficult floorpan, most of us would not hesitate to help them out. They may not need the help, but we could understand if they were having a difficult time and struggling because we would see a likely reason for that struggle.
Some special needs aren’t so obvious. They are much more hidden. Therefore their struggles go unnoticed or misunderstood.
Do you believe you can visually identify a child on the autism spectrum? Do you think autism is obvious? If you do, you have a stereotypical image in your head of how autists look and behave. The spectrum is very wide and diverse, ranging from high functioning to severe. Do you know what “high-functioning autism” means?
How about children with sensory-processing disorder? Are their special needs obvious? Can you see them?They don’t have the filters most of us do to block out incoming sensory information and it can be overwhelming. As a result, the way these children process the world can send them into sensory overload, rendering them incapable of functioning “acceptably” in situations where many others would see, hear, or smell nothing unusual.
When you see a typical, well-behaved, intelligent child, suddenly act much younger than his age, do you think they are acting like a baby, or they are spoiled? Or do you realize that he has not managed to mature up to his actual age level? This is very common on the Spectrum. When judged, how does that make the parent feel, and even more so the child, who isn’t emotionally mature enough to act the age he is supposed to?
How about witnessing a child have an uncontrollable tantrum. Spoiled again? Or is it an autistic or sensory meltdown? A tantrum and meltdown can appear to look the same, but they are far from the same. A tantrum is when a child doesn’t get his or her way. The tantrum is thrown in hopes of getting his way. A meltdown on the other hand is not intentional and completely out of the hands of the child. It’s when the child no longer knows how to cope and melts down.
It might be that the child has been trying his best to deal with the onslaught of sensory overload and can’t take it any longer. As an adult with the same special needs, this type of sensory overload is difficult, but to a child that has not learned coping mechanisms, they meltdown. Just like a toddler who is exhausted and needs to sleep, and unable to soothe himself to sleep, or the environment doesn’t allow it, melts down.
When meltdowns happen for my kids, they are genuinely sorry afterward, as well as embarrassed the meltdown happened. As a parent, my first thoughts are to keep them safe. My second thought, or really it’s a feeling, is that all eyes are on me… judging. Seeing a child who is not a toddler throwing a large fit… people sometimes think the child is out-of-control. And there is that word spoiled again. I can assure you, that isn’t the case.
There are more and more children on the spectrum, as well as children with special needs such as SPD and other unnamed needs.
Having to deal with any kind of special needs is difficult. I sometimes feel that having invisible needs is harder. It’s not easily understood or accepted, even by friends and family… they seem so normal. But in all fairness, I know that’s not true. The visible special needs are just as difficult, if not more. They are all difficult.
I wrote this in hopes to shine awareness on invisible special needs. Especially to those who are fortunate enough not to have to deal with this on a daily basis. The struggles that special needs families’ face are hard enough just living day to day, but adding judgement isn’t right. Expecting too much of someone who just isn’t able isn’t fair.
If you see a child and a parent struggling, reach out to help. Trust me, that small act of kindness means the world to us both.
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