Special Needs Aren’t A Competition

I don’t compare my son’s Autism to anyone else. If another person’s child on the spectrum has language, while mine doesn’t, I don’t consider them any less deserving of the title of “special needs”. I hope others would do the same for me, but, to be honest, I don’t really care if they do. It’s not about them.

Lucas’s Autism, and the “special needs” title that goes along with it, isn’t a private club that we’re a part of. It’s a way for me to explain our situation to other people in a simplistic and general way. We’re neither ashamed nor proud. We just are. The term “special needs” is more for others to hear, rather than for us to say.  Those parents who feel their situation warrants the term “special needs”, in my opinion, are free to use it. I don’t somehow take it as an affront to anything I’m dealing with – good or bad – in my own life.

It sounds like a no-brainer, right? I thought so too, but through the years, I’ve found that’s not always the case. I once had a special needs mother snarl to me about another parent she knew. The issue? Apparently she had the nerve to refer to her child as special needs “when all he has is ADHD”. I can still hear her dismissive laugh ringing in the air.

compIt sort of blew me away that someone who lives in a world where their children are put under microscopes could do that to someone else. It’s one thing to gossip about another person’s lawn or car. It’s another to do it about their kid. Making it worse, it’s not just about the kid. It’s about the private interactions that the family has with one another. It’s about hidden moments that this woman was barely privy to. Truth be told, we know next to nothing about each other outside of what we share. I don’t know what anyone’s life is truly like when they close the door at night. Neither do you.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that referring to our children as “special needs” puts them under microscopes. A short time after I started writing this blog, I ran into a retired teacher who mentioned that she heard about my son. She began asking me, what felt like, intrusive questions regarding Lucas’s abilities and schooling.

Is he in a mainstream school?

Yes, he’s in a special needs class.

And he likes it?

He seems to.

Does he get along with the students?

Well, yeah. He doesn’t speak, but the teacher says he loves the other kids.

To this, she grabbed my arm and her expression changed to satisfied relief. Suddenly we were old drinking buddies and her voice was a sympathetic whisper.

Oh, OK. That’s why I was asking. I know a lot of people like to say “Autism” when it’s not. If he’s non-verbal, then that’s it.

I was a bit frozen there. On one hand, good for me? I had passed this lady’s weird three question Autism exam. On the other hand, what if I hadn’t? Who gave her the right to judge anyone else?

That thought stayed in my head after that day and invites a stream of what-ifs. What if Lucas did talk? What if his worst moments were behind closed doors and away from the eyes of others? What if it wasn’t “obvious” that he had Autism? Would my life be spent having to prove my special needs worthiness to judgmental people and those who gossip behind my back? How awful. I hated to think that there were parents who may have to deal with that on a regular basis.

I’ve met many parents through the years. Some are great. Some are not. However, there’s always one constant that seems to run through most. It’s the feeling that they would give up anything to make their children’s life better. You hear a lot of those “I would jump in front of a truck for my kid.” It’s not until you have a kid that you realize, “Wow. Yeah. I would.”

window1So I can’t discount someone else’s personal life with a child they would splatter themselves into traffic for just because I think my situation might be “harder”. To be frank, I don’t really think of my son in terms of “hard” or “easy”. He’s my son. I love him. I take care of him. Whatever needs he might have, I’ll do them just as I do for his sister, who is not on the spectrum. If he has ten needs or a thousand, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same and I’m happy to do it because I love my child. I think many parents, for the most part, would feel the same.

On the flipside, I wouldn’t want any of the people in my life to feel uneasy talking about the struggles of their children – special needs or not – because of how much more plentiful they perceive my responsibilities to be. Aside from the fact that, as I just mentioned, I don’t view our life as hard, the whole others-have-it-worse approach is false logic that never works.

It’s like saying you shouldn’t be upset about losing your job around someone who has no job themselves. Just because someone else’s struggle may appear harder, it doesn’t discount your own. Whether general parenting, Autism, ADHD, or anything else that could be considered special needs, parents should support each other. Ultimately, we’re all in the same boat.

The most important thing is not what your child’s needs are, but whether you’re there when they need you. When parents do that, they earn my respect. At the end of the day, we can’t all run to each other’s homes and help with routine chores to make each other’s lives easier. The only thing we can do is support one another instead of making life into a pointless competition. That’s it. In the grand scheme of things, it seems like a pretty easy task.