Comparing My Special Needs Son To Just One Person

My son has some great kids in his class. There’s Warren and Michael and T.J. and, um, did I say Warren already? Warren. Uh, Pietro. Pietro? I don’t think there’s a Pietro. That may have been from a movie I saw. I don’t know. There’s definitely a Warren.

The truth is, I don’t keep too close of tabs on my son’s classmates. I keep track of my ten-year-old son. I watch his growth and his achievements, and I compare them to only one person – him from yesterday.

I don’t know what the other kids are doing. Some are talking. Some are reading. Some might have X-Ray vision. It makes no difference to me. If he’s doing better than Warren, it means nothing. If he’s doing better than himself from last week, it means the world.

It’s easy to get caught up in that compare and contrast mentality though. You want your kid to be the best of the bunch. It’s important. Some parents put such a high priority on that and, while I understand the mentality, it’s not beneficial to our children. Proving my non-verbal son is excelling further in certain areas than kids in his class is about as pointless as proving he’s struggling in certain areas compared to the neurotypical kids running the streets.

Perhaps it’s something engrained in parents like me. We spend so many hours of so many days focusing on what our kids don’t do. Therapists asks where our kids need help. IEPs list areas of needed improvement. Teachers make notes of all they don’t do. As a parent, you can’t even pretend that they’re wrong.

I mean, you can. Some do, but then you deprive your child of much needed resources. It’s one thing to sit at Thanksgiving and tell your Uncle Elroy that little Tommy writes his own music, when you know it’s nonsense. It’s another to insist it to an administrator who, with the stroke of a pen, could give you vital services to help him improve. Sure, you may have convinced Dr. Pencil-Swiper that you have a budding Kanye in the family, but you’ve given up instruction that could have done some genuine good for you child.

There are forms to fill out with countless boxes labelled “Never Does” and surveys that rip your heart out as you highlight every milestone your loved one is still traying to reach. It’s a lot to take in and why, for some parents, the grand comparison is such a big deal. For a caretaker who never gets to prop their kid up on a pedestal, they lunge at the sporadic chances to do so.

Honestly, though, it serves no purpose. My son Lucas is in class to be the best person he can possibly be. It’s not about beating people out or becoming King of the Program. It’s about learning the lessons that he hasn’t picked up yet. It’s about making him a functional member of society one day in the way he’s most capable of becoming. It’s about him – not Warren, not Michael, and not Pietro. If there was a Pietro.

drink cup

That’s perhaps the most important part of all of this. I keep track of what Lucas did so that when he improves, I can see it. If his whole life was spent with one goal – verbal language, life would be a perpetual letdown. If that dad I was eight years ago was still here, questioning when he would talk every ten minutes, I would never be happy. I’m the dad I am now, though. Now, things are very different.

I see how carefully he carries plates from the kitchen to the table before eating. I watch as he drinks from a cup without a top and barely spills a drop. He sits quietly at restaurants and he takes off his own shoes when he comes into the house. All of these actions, perhaps tiny to those reading, are major achievements for Lucas and ones that only exist when he is being compared to his own past actions.

Think about it. No one ever asks, “What is your son doing in class? Is he taking on and off his own shoes?” No. No one thinks like that. It’s a skill that means everything to one parent and nothing to another. For Lucas, it means so much. If I don’t notice it, no one notices it. If no one notices it, then he never gets the recognition he deserves. Then I sit in my own self-pity, wishing he could do more. I wouldn’t see that is he doing more, right before my eyes.

Do some kids in his class speak? I guess so. Do they read or scan objects with their X-Ray eyes? Maybe. But none of that matters. My boy properly dries his hands after washing them. It’s something he didn’t do six months ago. It’s something he does now. It’s an achievement and that’s how we measure them. Other people might not get it, but they don’t have to get it. They only have to get what their own kids do and don’t do. That’s how this whole thing works.

So, congratulations on whatever your child is doing. I’ll toast a drink with you and send you a greeting card. As a dad who worries about my own son, I know the achievements of our children are worth celebrating and I join you in that. I also, however, know that it doesn’t affect my son whatsoever. He’s his own person and he’s my only little man. Language and X-Ray vision might be right around the corner or they might not be. Either way, compared to where he was yesterday, he’s doing amazing. That’s all that matters.



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