When The Term “Special Needs Parent” Is Needed

Every morning, my special needs son’s bed looks like it turned into a spaceship and flew him to the moon overnight. The sheer chaos of thrown blankets, pillows, and clothing on an incredibly uneven mattress resembles a Hanna Barbara animated vessel sending him to the clouds among cartoonish stars. It’s his magic school bus. It’s his great space coaster. It’s…broken.

I knew it was going to break. A while ago, I wrote about it. There would be mystery screws all around it with no idea where they came from. Finding out required a flashlight and some free time. I had neither at my disposal and the thing was still standing. Let it go, Handy Manny.

I let it all go until this past weekend. It was another banner morning. My son was naked. That’s what he does. Whether it’s sensory or what, he likes to play Free Willy and run around his room on his iPad. It’s why I had to switch from zipper to button-down onesies. He can’t do buttons, so he’s stuck….until now.

How did Lucas climb out of his one-piece pajamas? Well, it’s a byproduct of another stimming thing – sleeve biting.

My boy will go to town on his long sleeve shirts, depending on the fabric. These pajamas, while buttoned up, have some delectable fibers. They are a favorite among any discerning pajama connoisseur.

So he bites…and gnaws…and pulls…

…And ends up pulling it so far that the head-hole grows big enough for him to shimmy out of.

You know the old saying, “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed”? Well, I’m very impressed, albeit a little mad.


Walking into the room at 4 in the morning and seeing the scene before me was like one of those images where the longer you stare, the crazier it appears. Naked and clapping, Lucas greeted me. Over his shoulder, I saw the headboard, half-off.

It was still early so I put him back in his discarded clothing and made him do the no, no, no thing with his hand. I then went behind the headboard and screwed it in with the one screw that I could find. It was shaky, but it would do.

When I returned an hour later, the headboard had completely cracked off and he was well on his way to digging another head hole out of his Shawshank Pajamas. I stood there in horror as he jumped, laughed, and clapped his way around me. The shocked look on my face was no match for the joy in his as he placed his sopping-wet palm on my chin and laughed.

I’ve written about how he won’t let me stay mad at him and I didn’t on this day either. I hugged him and laughed along while lecturing him about things. I give him the ol’ you’re killing me speech as I get to work bulldozing the damage.

You’re killing me, kid. You’re lucky you’re cute. Look. The bed broke. Your sleeve is all wet. You were naked before. No, no, no. You can’t do that. You have to keep it together. Come on. Big boy.

Laughter. Hugs. I’ll take it. My boy is non-verbal with autism. Some things he gets. Some things he doesn’t. Some things he gets halfway. This is one of them. He understands that it’s something he shouldn’t do. He just doesn’t see the importance of not doing it and the fallout it brings. It’s one of the difficulties of teaching dangers as a special needs parent.

I know some people take issue with the term “special needs parent”. Personally, I know there are situations that don’t call for pointing it out and times that do. This is one.

The term is there to define situations that I know, also as the father of a neurotypical daughter, would not make sense in the context of “parent” without a modifier. I have been to Long Island diners with these fellow fathers after school events.

Yo. Tommy’s got prahblums wit hiz math. I says to him, Tommy, you do that gahdam math – pardon my langwidge – I says to him, you do that gahdam math or no more sahhkah. He loves sahhkah. You seen him with the kicks and the goals this friggin’ kid. But no. Do the gahdam math. You guys understand what I’m sayin’.

To which I would say…

I totally get it. The other day, my son chewed on his sleeve so hard that he pulled his onesie off and then ran around naked screaming happily as the wood from his headboard cracked the bed. Mornings, am I right, fellas? Up high. Come on. Give it up for Raffi and baby wipes.

“Special Needs Parent” is sometimes an important distinction. 

My story wouldn’t fit and my handling of it wouldn’t either. Could I threaten to take away soccer if my son stops getting naked overnight? Sure. Will it matter? Nah.

For many special needs parents, that’s a big difference. I can’t make threats or in-the-future punishments. I can’t even ensure that he knows the root of my frustrations as I’m cleaning up his messes at 4AM. All I can do is take care of him, try to teach him, and remember that some moments are simply out of our control.

For now, the headboard is now resting behind the bed. I’m hoping that maybe the control panel was in there and this will curtail future missions to the cartoon stars. Beam me up, Lucas.



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