Special Needs Children … Special Needs Families
by Todd Shupe
My second child, Kyle, was born May 24, 2002. He was a big, healthy baby and was, and will always be, a tremendous blessing to me. We noticed at an early age that he was not reaching the typical milestones for babies and toddlers in terms of walking, talking, etc. We had him tested for hearing loss, brain function, blood tests and more. All of the tests came back normal, but his development was not normal. In particular, he showed little interest in talking and had a very limited vocabulary.
Eventually, we received a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified). I remember looking at that and thinking, “Okay, now we know what we have, so let’s make a plan to fix it.” However, I later realized that his autism is a spectrum disorder with no known cure, and the spectrum covers patients identified as high functioning to severe. To me, the diagnosis sounded more like — We don’t really know what your child has so we created a category and called it PDD-NOS instead of WDK (we don’t know).
Families with a special needs child have special needs of their own — schools, churches, restaurants, dentists, etc. that are accommodating to special needs children. We were blessed to find an excellent Pre-K program at Southdowns Elementary in Baton Rouge. However, Kyle aged out of the program and we were left looking at options that ranged from lousy to expensive. We declined lousy and hired a private teacher to work with our son. Also, our church was accommodating and invited us to attend several meetings to discuss setting up a special needs Sunday School room.
I have heard some parents say that when they received the diagnosis of autism, they felt as if part of their child had died, that their dreams and hopes for their child had been shattered and that their child would not live a “typical” life. I never felt that way. I believe in continuous improvement. So Kyle goes to school all year long. This is expensive, but it is best for his development.
I realize that there are many things he will never do, such as get married, drive a car, or play high school sports — and that is fine with me. I focus on the things that he can do. He can go for walks with me and hold my hand. He can go to the movies with me and share a tub of popcorn and a soda while we enjoy an animated movie. He enjoys playing fetch with our dog. And he can give the best hugs that will cure a headache much better than any aspirin.
A child with special needs certainly puts a strain on any marriage. A 2010 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that parents with ASD children were nearly twice as likely to get divorced than couples without disabled children. The study revealed something else interesting: the divorce rates in parents with disabled children did not increase until the children became teens or adults. My own marriage ended after 20 years when Kyle was 12 years old.
Kyle has a bright future, and I want him to become as independent as possible. Like other children, he yearns for his father’s approval and I try to always acknowledge every good thing that he does. So there is no need to change or “cure” Kyle. He is perfect just as he is. He is a child of God and a tremendous blessing to me. I want him to live a happy life.
We hold hands and pray before each meal. I offer the blessing and then gently squeeze his hand at the end and he clearly and proudly says, “Amen!” Kyle is a blessing to me and has taught me so much about what is really important in life.
Todd Shupe is a wood science consultant and president of drtoddshupe.com. He is the president of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is in training as a Men’s Ministry Specialist under the General Commission of United Methodist Men. He writes Christian blogs at toddshupe.com
Todd Shupe is the president of drtoodshupe.com and a Christian blogger at toddshrupe.com. He currently serves as president of Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is training to become a men’s ministry specialist under the General Commission of United Methodist Men.