It doesn’t matter when you notice, but when you do it cannot be ignored. When you find yourself at that crossroad of “Typical” and “Unique,” there are a few suggestions I’d like to offer up to make your journey a little easier.
Open Mind – Depending on where you live, you may not have children close in age as visual references for developmental milestones. Some people will offer advice; listen to all, even the ones that sound odd.
Trust your instincts – If it doesn't feel right, chances are it isn't. Whether it's in the things you do at home or when they are at school. If you have that feeling, then follow it. It can make all the difference in the world.
Tough Spirit – You may find yourself standing alone in your fight for answers. Coworkers, friends, even family may offer their "best" sage advice on how you should "handle the situation." The "situation" in your eyes may be totally different than how other people are viewing it. Stand strong.
Imagination – Don’t worry if you haven’t read all the “books.” A good imagination can help in finding the little things that work for your child each day.
Embrace Social Media – Forget most of the negative comments you hear about social media. What they don’t understand is the impact it has in the life of special needs parents. You can literally reach around the world, find people who understand your challenges and connect in ways through social media that our lives typically don’t allow.
Find Comfort – Find comfort from those of like mind and experience; they are the ones who can truly understand what you are going through.
Celebrate – Celebrate all that there is. Big or small, it doesn't matter. Every accomplishment is worth a smile, a cheer, a hug and a share.
Respite – Look for places in your community that have respite care for special needs children. There's a good chance the program was started by one who has been there before you. It’s created just for you.
Don't Be Shy – Life will throw you curve balls. Instead of fight-or-flight response, it’s more like a “stand firm or let it go” response. This is your child. You are their advocate.
Stay Positive – As you have seen, much of what you see from others will be, or at least seem, negative. It can pull you down and wear you out. Fight against it. Find that which is positive. Once you start looking you see that while our lives aren’t easy, they are blessed beyond measure. We see things in ways that others may never know.
Different, Not Less – Some of us have adapted to an alternative to the term “Special Needs.” We have started referring to these uniquely created individuals as “Differently-Abled.” When given the opportunity, they can show you just how truly amazing and smart they are.
Network – Any way that you can connect, do so. Find support group meetings in your area. Take advantage of various forms social media. Enjoy the ability to reach out to others that understand. See someone out and about wearing a t-shirt, pin, bracelet? Stop them and talk. Great odds that they will be willing to share. If nothing else, you have found a friend, an ally in our march to educate.
We know our journey is not easy. It is one that we hadn't planned on. We fall asleep, exhausted from the day, to rise again and face a new day. We rise ready to fight a good fight. We step out knowing that we will make a difference.
At this moment, as you are reading this, know that you are not alone in your journey. Know that there is an army of new people you have yet to meet that are willing to stand by you; to guide you as you need. They are here to offer support, love, friendship, help, offer ideas, shoulders to cry on, cheerleaders to cheer with and the ammo of knowledge when you ask. Some of us have been on this journey for many miles, others only a few. One thing is for sure, we all march together.
Debra Brakefield is mom to two young adults who are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. While working her full time job, she also coordinates All Star Bowling for the Differently-Abled each Saturday, facilitates the young adult Connection Group for AutismOklahoma CanadianValley, and the AutismOklahoma Writer’s Group.