It helps to know you are not “different”

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 19, 2005

For 10 years I struggled with my oldest son’s special needs, going to doctors and scraping together money for medicine, talking with teachers and arranging time off from work for the numerous meetings and conferences that were required to make sure he was successful in school.

I worked with counselors and psychiatrists to tailor the discipline and coping skills needed to handle his behaviors, and I suffered through countless nights of crying from feelings of desperation and frustration, wanting so much to help my child live a normal life and maybe reclaim a bit of mine.

For 10 years I did this alone. I felt like no one understood what I was going through, that I had no one to talk to for fear of being looked upon as a bad parent, or chastised for not doing enough to help him.

All that changed a few months ago when I met a woman whose son is very much like mine. As she and I talked, head nodded eagerly in agreement. “That is just like my son,” one or the other would say. We shared stories of not wanting to go anywhere for fear of “tantrums,” and the isolation we felt because of our children and the guilt that followed because of our love for our children.

Her child is now 18 and doing very well, something that gives me hope. And I have developed a very special friendship with this lady, a friendship that goes beyond the shoulder to cry on or the ear to listen, but one of understanding and empathy.

The importance of such an acquaintance was driven home to me when we ran an article this week about little Nickolas Taylor, who was born with Spinal Bifida. The day that article ran, a man called and asked that we give his number to the Taylors and have them call him. Why? Because his daughter, who is now six years old and starting first grade, has the same condition and is doing great. He wanted the Taylors to know that he had been through and was continuing to go through a lot of what they were experiencing, and he wanted to let them know it would be OK.

More than that though, he wanted to let them know they are not alone.

For that exact reason, I have talked with school officials and my pastor about beginning a support group for parents who have special needs children. It doesn’t matter if those needs come from behavioral or mental disorders, learning disabilities, or physical problems, because we are all struggling with the same emotions – desire to help our children in any way we can, discomfiture at the thought of what other people think of us as parents, frustration at not being able to do more for our children, anxiety and depression, just to name a few.

Because of privacy laws, the only way I can find parents who could benefit from such a group is for them to come to me (unless I just happen to know them personally), so I am using my power of the press to invite anyone who would be interested in sharing information, stories and feelings with other parents of special needs children to contact me here at the paper.

I can say from experience that it helps to talk to someone who knows first-hand what you are going through, and it can’t hurt to let our children see and hear that they are not the only ones who are “different.”