I Thank My “Special Needs” Child for All That I Am

Back to school is always an exciting yet nerve wracking time for most families, especially those of us who have kids with special needs.


It’s the second day of this new school year, and I’m sitting in my house, alone, with the eerie sound of silence.  It’s never this quiet here, even when the kids aren’t home probably because we have two boisterous dogs. 

One of those dogs, our Pomeranian puppy, Gracie, is not home today.  As soon as the bus rolled out of our hood, I dropped her off at our veterinarian’s office to prevent Spike from jumping the fence — she’s getting spayed.

The sound of silence is an odd thing to behold. All summer long I dream of those few quiet moments when I can hear things like my own stomach growling or the rush I receive from inhaling that perplexing sound called white noise!  Now that I have it, it’s really pushing me into “think mode” —which sometimes can be a dangerous thing!

As most of my regular readers know, I have eight kids.  My oldest is 19 and just left for college in NYC! Sending your first precious bundle off to the big apple is not only frightening it’s actually exciting as well.  I always thought I would be a city girl, but here I am 28 years out of college living in the same town (same house!) as I grew up in. 

Part of me is quite envious of Brittany having this opportunity to navigate a big city bustling with so many opportunities all by herself, and still a large part of me just wants to have her back home, as a 3-year-old little girl who thinks her mommy is her entire world. Sigh!

The rest of my gang is off and running between the elementary school, the middle school and the high school.  The beginning of the school year holds so many endless possibilities for all, including my child who has developmental and learning challenges.

My son, Cameron, now in seventh grade, is one of the most delightful pieces of my life. He was born 13 years ago on an icy February morning—weighing in at 10 pounds, five ounces — and no, he was not a C-Section.  All modesty goes out the window when a Chinese medical intern helps deliver your very large baby. 

As my own doctor worked below, this brave soul got on top of my chest and helped to push my baby out much like a raisin popping out of its skin!  To say this was an exciting birth was an understatement, but when all was said and done, I had a healthy bruiser who looked like he was about three months old, not a newborn!  It was love at first sight!

Cameron was inquisitive and curious right from the get go.  He explored, investigated and enjoyed everything he was exposed to from the very beginning.  He is still the same and can make me laugh like no other.

When he was 18 months old, he didn’t say very much — an occasional word here and there but not much else.  It wasn’t long after before we had him evaluated, and he was diagnosed with a speech and language delay. 

Having been through this before with two of my other kids, I was tired but certainly up for the challenge.  I knew the ins and outs of eliciting language from a non-verbal child and was able to do so in my sleep.

My first two speech delayed children are now in high school and doing beautifully.  They are terrific students, athletes and are socially on top of their game.  The sky is the limit for them.

Cameron has had more difficulty with social skills than they did, though he is a stellar student.  He didn’t inherit the Butler sports genes like my other sons did, and he is about 35 pounds overweight.  He is aware of it and has been trying to get healthy on his own doing — he’s quite independent and likes to be in charge of his own destiny!

That works well for all areas except for his studies. Now that he’s a teenager and in junior high, he realizes that his learning needs are different from his peers, and quite frankly he doesn’t like it one little bit. He wants desperately to fit in and be accepted for who he is and not for whom he isn’t.

He is currently labeled as “special needs” due to his social awkwardness at times and his challenge to decipher concrete and subjective.  For starters, let me say that I loathe, absolutely loathe the term “special needs” and while we’re at it I also shudder when I hear the term “special education.” 

Every kid is special, regardless of his IQ or developmental successes — so I wish we could come up with something a bit less “labeled” as that. 

Secondly, as a parent of a child with developmental issues I can tell you that in a perfect world, sure it would be great if every child born didn’t have struggles, but if that happened, life as we know it would not be as it is.  I can’t waste a single, precious moment wondering “what if?” because that doesn’t help my child or me move forward — it only holds all of us back.

Did I happen to mention he won the school-wide Spelling Bee when he was in fifth grade?  He beat out sixth, seventh and eighth graders that had no learning disabilities whatsoever. Yes, a very proud mother moment indeed!

My one wish for this new school year is that we could all be a lot more accepting of individual needs — including learning styles, personality quirks and most of all being aware not to count someone out before you’ve had a chance to see who they really are behind their challenges. Now to me, that would be really “special.”

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This article was originally published on Narragansett Patch on August 30, 2012.

Keith Anderson September 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Nice piece Cheryl, very well said.


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