Friday, September 18, 2009


My eight-year-old son deals with a lot of extra challenges. He was speech-delayed when he was younger. He copes with symptoms of sensory integration dysfunction, which make his world a frightening place. He has a tough time with impulse control and emotional regulation. And I'm pretty certain a psychologist will be calling me soon to say that he has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Top that off with having a younger brother who has autism, and that's a full plate.

At times I worry that his self-esteem is taking serious hits from all these challenges. So I tell him that he's great. It's a fine line to walk. You don't want to create entitlement in your child. But you also need your child to know, as deeply as humanly possible, that you think he or she is terrific.

Last year, when I met with his second grade teacher, I listened to the long list of what he struggles with. Group interaction. Friend-making. Finishing a project later when time has run out. I walk in to a parent/teacher meeting with thick skin, but it gets thinned pretty quickly. Thankfully, his teacher understood my little man well. She pulled out his most recent test scores and said,

"It's pretty evident that academics will never be a problem for him."

I hadn't realized that I was holding my breath until that moment. What a relief. And what admiration I felt! He could hold himself together, with all those challenges, and perform beautifully.

Last weekend we attended his Cub Scout pack meeting. The leaders had planned a Newlywed Game-type of activity. The parents left the room while the boys (who had never seen the show before) answered a few questions. Then the parents were brought back in.

I got the first question right, spot-on. Then I missed all the others. My poor little guy had a hard time controlling his frustration at me and at the game in general. I could just imagine what he was thinking-- doesn't mom know all about me? Then it was the scouts' turn to leave the room.

The questions were tough for me to answer. One of them was, "Who do you (the scout) think is your parent's hero?" I didn't know who to choose, so I wrote down, "Grandma Sue." Susan is the name of both of my son's grandmothers, so I increased my odds a bit.

As we played and missed question after question (okay, we got one more right) he grew more and more frustrated. I had to talk him down after each wrong answer. He was tired, it was the first week of school, and everyone was staring at him. I couldn't blame him. He was just barely hanging in there by his fingernails. Then came the parent's hero question.

He looked at me and wrinkled his brow. Bit his lip. Hemmed and hawed, then said quietly, "I'm not sure that this is right..." I encouraged him to answer anyway. Who did he think was my hero? He answered,

"Is it... me?"

All the parents in the room melted and I threw my arms around him. He was still upset that he had answered incorrectly, but in my world, he was the winner.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


When you have a special needs child, I think you worry more than typical parents about your child's future. You hope that he or she will be happy and will find a place in society. But you also hope-- really hope-- that they will end up self-sufficient. Some day. Hopefully, before you yourself end up toothless and cranky.

So I try to foster the idea that some day my little guy will have a job and a family. But I want to stay realistic. I don't want to go too far and say, "You can be anything you want to be..." when, frankly, even typical kids can't expect that. But there is always hope for bigger and better things.

And like all parents, I wonder if anything gets past the ears and into the brains of my kids. I try. And today, I received a confirmation. I think.

My little guy came home from his second day of school and was seeking sensory input. Sometimes he runs into walls, sometimes he jumps off the furniture, sometimes he pummels his siblings. Today, it was,

"Can I have a folded up, soft blanket?"

A much less destructive choice!

"Which one do you want?" I asked.

"A snuggly one." Hmm. Need more detective work.

"Can you tell me what color it is?" I asked.

"Any color it wants to be."

He thrills when he sees me crack up. It didn't help me choose the right blanket, but it sure made my day.