Sunday, April 29, 2012

Having a child with special needs...

There’s a cute commercial out that ends with the tag line, “Having a baby changes everything.” I certainly agree with this sentiment; having your first baby changes your life forever.  I’ve found that subsequent babies changes things less and less. Once you get past the initial “We had another baby!” and “How do we juggle multiple children?” life pretty much goes on the way it was before, but with an extra little person strapped to you.
But having a child with special needs- well, that’s a whole new ball game.
At the beginning, Georgie’s special needs were very hard on the family. He was in the hospital and I had two other children at home. It was difficult to be in two places at once and even though we tried to keep the home routine normal for the children, it wasn’t. Georgie wasn’t in the hospital long enough to get into a good routine or hire someone to watch the older kids while I was away. Adam and I relied solely on ourselves to make it through that time.
His other special needs began to slowly creep up on us. It was only over time that we noticed he would have a meltdown when we went to public places, like the mall. He went through the normal stranger anxiety stage but never grew out of it. He stopped speaking. Without concisely making a choice, we were beginning to revolve our routine around him. We stopped going to the mall or play areas because it would lead to a Total Nuclear Meltdown. Play dates for my older children were hard because I didn’t know how he would react at a stranger’s house, even if I was there. I knew he loved all of us, but he was beginning to be drawn into his own little world. “Autism” was thrown around.
It turns out that George does not have Autism. In hindsight, he was upset and sad because he couldn’t communicate with us and didn’t know how to deal with a world that, to him, was overwhelming.  Once he began receiving the proper help, we were able to draw him out of his world and had “tricks” to help him deal with his SPD.
But even with all that, life changed more. Suddenly, I was making appointments for therapy instead of play dates. My other children are dragged along to speech, horse and occupational therapies. They have to sit in waiting rooms, watching old VHS tapes of Disney movies (or playing with toys) while their brother tries to make an “ssss” sound. Camille is rushed from school to a stable, where she watches (patiently, but with envy) and her brother rides a horse. It won’t end this summer. Although we are taking a break from some alternative therapies, we will still maintain a school routine as he goes to summer preschool twice a week.
Just what every kid wants, right? To be dragged out of bed early in the morning to go up to school, in the middle of the summer! To “hurry up and wait” as their brother sees another doctor. Oh, and the joy of being told “no” to a playdate because we have to go to (are you ready for this?) therapy.
In many, many ways, the big kids are very compliant. They do sit well through all the specialists and I am amazed at what they pick up. Camille can run George through his speech exercises better than most SLPs. Recently, she pulled him around on his toy ride-on horse telling him to say “stop!” and “go!” and blow bubbles. I joked with the PT and OT at hippotherapy that she could be hired. Joseph has always been unendingly patient with his brothers and that has carried over to other children. He is kind and loving to other children, especially children who need a little extra help.
As much as they “hurry up and wait” for George, George waits for them too. Since he was old enough to leave the germ-free confines of our house he has been dragged to musical performance, parent/teacher conferences, dance class and TKD. He has watched (yes, with envy) as his brother kicked and punched his way through belt levels. He’s crawled across dance floors after a recital and stood glued to windows as Joseph and Camille jumped into the pool. He might not wait for them while they are at therapy, but he waits.
Do I worry that my older children will grow up to resent George, feel angry that they had to leave the house early in the morning in the summer to drop their brother off at school? Do I worry that they will feel resentful of yet another therapy session that interferes with a play date.  Yes. I’m a mother; worrying is my job! But I also know my kids and I know myself. I know that they will vocalize their anger and frustrations to me. I know that I will acknowledge and validate their feelings and help them work through the feelings. I also know that they love their brother. He’s not “the kid with apraxia” or “the  kid that can’t talk.’ He’s just George, and that’s simply the way God sent him to us.
Having a child with special needs has changed everything in our house. It’s changed the way we have to live, the way we interact with others. We no longer take our ability to speak for granted. It’s  given us a deeper appreciation for life and our health. Yes, having a child with special needs has changed everything- for the better.

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