What Special Needs Kids Have Taught My Children

“Mommy! Guess what?” my first grader said excitedly at the beginning of the school year.

“What,  honey?” I asked.

“There are two special needs students in my class this year. Can you believe it? We are so lucky,” she said and ran off to play.

I wasn’t really surprised by her enthusiasm, but it touched me just the same. Her life has been shaped by the impact special needs kids have had on her siblings and our family. Her older brother received a Community Award in the third grade for serving Paul, a boy with learning disabilities. He shrugged off the award because he didn’t do anything to deserve it. “Paul is my friend, Mom.”

When her older sister was in the sixth grade, we attended the end of the year Awards program and the school gave several special needs kids trophies for their hard work. I wept in the middle of the row as I watched my daughter’s friend with Down’s Syndrome jump up and down and wave her trophy wildly in the air and do a victory march.

And then I’ll never forget watching my children serve a meal at a children’s home in Africa that housed some of Kenya’s most vulnerable handicapped children. I thought they might be afraid of the loud noises, the smells, and seeing mentally ill crippled children walk on their knees. But they boldly loved on these beautiful people and I they taught me so much about Jesus that day.

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We proudly wear our “This is How We Roll” shirts to advocate for our good friends whose son is wheel-chair bound. My kids love books like I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice and are learning to see special needs students as more like them, than different. And when the high school in our town voted in the Homecoming Queen a few weeks ago, the newly crowned student wheeled her chair onto the court, we all smiled at each other. It made us proud to be a part of a school that values everyone.

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I have great kids. While they are 100% normal (and by that I mean, they stuff dirty clothes under their beds and leave empty toilet paper rolls regularly and spent an hour yesterday pulling weeds because they needed an opportunity to get along. ahem), they also understand that life is really about loving others.

Here are 4 powerful things special needs kids have taught my children:

  • Don’t Give Up When It’s Hard: Day in and day out, my children work alongside children in wheelchairs, with safety helmets, cochlear implants, autism, behavioral issues and who are non-verbal. I love that kids with these struggles are integrated into every classroom. My kids watch them tenaciously struggle and achieve what comes easy for others. They are inspired by these children who refuse to give up.
  • Compassion Makes You a Better Person: It really comes down to love for others. It’s a God-given emotion to want to come alongside someone who is facing a challenge. Every special needs child we have know, loves without limits and are compassionate.
  • Gratitude: My kids have learned to be thankful. They see their friends achieve great feats and are proud of them. It’s also hard not to be thankful for health and perspective when they realize their struggles are different. They watch their teachers come along side and cheer on kids and it spurs gratitude.
  • It’s Ok to be Different: I’ve written before how my kids sometimes feel different in our culture because of some of the choices we’ve made. Special needs kids have taught them how to celebrate being unique. Different is good.

Last week at my first grader’s parent-teacher conference, I got an update on my daughter’s reading level and looked through her test scores and worksheets. But when her teacher said, “Your daughter is kind to everyone, especially our special needs learners who are non-verbal. She always makes sure they have a partner and are included in the class activities.”

I felt like I’d won the lottery.

Because nothing-not straight A’s or clean bedrooms-makes me more proud than the way my kids have allowed special needs children into their lives and impacted them to be better people. It’s not just about rooting for the underdog, it’s about seeing our special friends as they are–strong and beautiful and a gift in our lives.

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    WOW. Just…wow.

    As a Mom of a son with Down Syndrome, this post blesses me in SO many ways. I PRAYED each year that God would send children like yours to befriend my son when he was younger and in school. School, especially elementary and middle school, was HARD for him. He’s out of school now, and while some kids teased and bullied him, he did have some great friends and helpers.

    So many times we think about how much the person with the challenges will learn from others, and we don’t realize how much we ALL can learn from the ones who have a harder time.

    Still learning every day…

  2. 2

    Lynn says

    I am the worst commenter but have read your blog for YEARS.

    Bravo for this post and for teaching your children to celebrate differences. As a mama to a child with Autism, I so appreciate this. My son is high functioning but somewhat hard to deal with at times. It breaks my heart to see him all alone on the playground and at lunch. I pray daily for a child like yours to come along.

    Great job Mom and Dad! I see Jesus in your kids and that is the most we can ask for…

  3. 3

    says

    As a mom to a son with Autism, thank-you! We have been blessed (yes, it blesses the entire family!) by the kids who have taken him under their wing and who truly are his friends. Even when these kids don’t realize it, they are doing a God-thing :) So, to you and all the other parents who have taught their children well, thank-you!

  4. 4

    Lisa says

    I am so glad to see this in words. Our family is blessed with 2 special needs kids, a cousin and a good family friend, and everyday I thank God for all the things that my children learn from them.

  5. 5

    Lisa Burns says

    As another Mom of a son with autism, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Mikey is high-functioning but doesn’t get understand the value of friendships. Thank you for raising children who want to include our kids. You indeed have hit the jackpot!! And we too, are blessed, for he has brought us closer to God than we ever could have imagined!

  6. 6

    anonymous says

    this post was wonderful. i have one comment though, as a mom of a daughter with multiple diagnoses. when discussing children with special needs, it is more politically correct to say “children with special needs” instead of “special needs children”. likewise, it is better to say “child with autism” instead of “autistic child”. this is called “person first language” and it stresses that these kids are kids first, whether or not they have a diagnosis. thank you for teaching your children well!

  7. 8

    Teresa says

    Hi Kristen,

    So glad your family was able to participate in the program for children with special needs in Kenya. I am thinking that the children may not have been mentally ill ( I could be wrong) but developmentally disabled/ cognitively impaired?

    Those of us with family members who are cognitively impaired appreciate the sensitivity that you are approaching this with your own family. So glad we are working on eliminating the “R” word.

    Mercy House and your work is in my prayers. Blessings.

    Teresa

  8. 9

    says

    Thank you for this posting. As a retired teacher and widow of a wonderful man who spent half our marriage in a wheelchair, I am so grateful for parents like you who teach their children that we are all brothers and sisters of a loving Father in Heaven.

  9. 10

    says

    Kristen, have you heard of Cornerstone Ranch Ministries? We just attended an auction/dinner benefit for them this past weekend, and it just blew me away. I wrote a little bit about it (http://bootsandfeet.blogspot.com/2013/11/cornerstone-ranch-life-is-beautiful.html), but words cannot do justice to the beauty of the work that they do and the Love that motivates them.

    How your children treat other people, especially those who are different from them, is a true testimony to the lessons you and T are instilling in their hearts. Good job, mama! As always, you’re an inspiration for me!

  10. 12

    Jai says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. As we enter the high school years, it has been hard for my son to KEEP friends, because of his “differences”, but we continue to pray for good, lifelong friendships for him as he ages. We DO thank God for his teachers and staff and the two friends who have hung in there with him this year.

    This post was BEAUTIFUL.

  11. 14

    BARBARA WALKER says

    Hi, Kristen, It is so nice to read about your children and their special love for others. I am not surprised. You have always been a very lovely person. I know the Lord is well pleased. It is so wonderful the work you do in Kenya, also. God bless you and your family and all that you do. love you, Barbara Walker

  12. 16

    says

    They’re really the most wonderful wow gold I have ever before purchased! I have the Chocolate kinds. They don’t get dirty as fast as the others on account of it can be dark color (when using the exception of black). I bring these everday, and they’re so good I experience like I’m walking on a cloud. I will sure acquire yet another pair!

  13. 17

    Amanda says

    As a mom to a beautiful little boy with disabilities, THANK YOU! I pray my son will have friends like your children in his life. God bless you and your beautiful family.

  14. 19

    Kristin Faiva says

    Thank you for being such an amazing teacher to your children and an example to others! I have a 6 year old son who is in a wheelchair and sometimes struggles to fit it. It breaks my heart to hear him come home from the first grade and tell me that he felt lonely on the playground and hasn’t made any friends. He is a wonderful, sweet funny boy and I wish I could be there to watch and protect him every day but I can’t. I have been praying for him to find a sweet little friend like your children. Thank you for answering the prayers of others:)

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