Yesterday before Declan went to bed he had a lot of questions about ‘special needs’. He had spent part of the evening at the Derby ice cream social where he met one of Mairen’s friends who uses a walker to get around and has a bit of a slower speech pattern. I thought this was the impetus for the questions but I found out later in the discussion, seeing Mairen’s friend as having special needs didn’t even cross his mind. Instead he was asking about himself. It was a tender and self-aware set of questions about the Down’s syndrome kids he knows and about OT and speech therapy and even PT all of which he has had. Unlike his friend with Down’s syndrome or even Mairen’s friend, Declan’s special needs aren’t immediately apparent. He is a tall and handsome boy with a perpetually sunny disposition who is a great dancer and actor but who stutters and has difficulty getting his words out and has great difficulty with math and handwriting (but spells out loud like a champ). He has been in speech therapy his whole life and in OT and PT for years. But this is the first time he has ever asked about his ‘special needs’.
He asked why he has these differences if he doesn’t have Down’s syndrome or need a walker or have autism and I told him that was just the way he was made. I explained that we all have ‘special needs’ and some peoples’ are more visible than others and that some people need extra help to learn how to manage their challenges. He said that this year kids have begun to ask him why he can’t talk right and why he goes to the LRC for class at times…it killed me to know that he was now, in fourth grade, beginning to understand that he is different and that negotiating the world will always take a different set of skills than other people. It killed me not because he is different, not because he stutters and will always have difficulty expressing himself, it killed me because he felt for the first time his challenges and differences.
As a parent I wish Dec could sail through life never seeing his shortcomings, never experiencing any discomfort or rejection. As I talked to him, I realized that every parent feels this at some point about every one of their children. At some point, every child’s differences are pointed out, every child is noticed for their shortcomings or challenges and every child must face his or her own reality and hopefully have parents and siblings and friends who love him for who he IS and embrace his strengths and weaknesses.
So this weekend while you are on a walk with your kids or playing on the playground, ask about their ‘special needs’. Find out if your child is comfortable in his own skin, find out if he likes himself and make sure that you remind him of your love and happiness at having him in your life and the joy he brings you every day.
Talk, walk, and play and each day will be your best!
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center 248 816 2558