Lessons from my Special Needs Child

Theresa Kelly Darr
January 30, 2000

As mother of an 8-year old special needs child, I am approaching "veteran" status. During the first five years of Caroline's life, it seemed that I was crying every night. I've dried my eyes and have learned some important lessons along the way.

  • Cultivate Kindness, Patience and Perseverance. Regardless of your religious affiliation, know that God never gives us anything that we can't cope with. Often, our greatest challenges are in areas we need to work on, such as patience, kindness, or perseverance. These children provide these lessons for their parents and everyone they meet. My own lesson was unconditional love. I'm not ashamed to say that there were many, many times that I was secretly embarrassed by her when she would act too young for her age in front of friends and others outside the family. The hard truths are the ones that need repetition. I simply told myself over and over again that I had to gauge her by developmental age, not chronological age.


  • Don't expect to be patient or loving all the time. Parents are human beings. Search out support in your community. In the beginning, I found going to a parent's support group very helpful. Other parents with disabled children were and continue to be my best source of information and support. Accepting reality takes time.


  • Enjoy the progress that your child makes. I used to find myself caught up in what my daughter wasn't doing in comparison to her peers, often missing chances to enjoy her uniqueness.


  • Find Affordable Local Services. If you want to get private services for your child, check into local universities that have degree programs in the service area. They give professional grade services for a reduced rate. I take my daughter to a university that has a graduate program in speech therapy. A graduate student gives her speech therapy under the supervision of a licensed professional. They also had a grant program, which reduced the cost for me since speech therapy isn't covered by my health insurance.


  • Keep excellent files and become a copious note taker. To properly manage your child it's important to keep track of everything. Every test, report or related item must be kept in reverse chronological order. Most doctors and other professionals will depend on you to report on your child. You are the advocate and the one who knows your child best. By being meticulous, I have been able to understand what gaps there are in her academic progress and can ask for these things from her school or from private therapists.


  • Make time for yourself. Many women have a difficult time doing this yet it is essential for your family's emotional survival. Mothers must carve out time for friends, dates with your mate, shopping or other activities. As I look back, I can see how much time I wasted being upset and bewildered because my child wasn't perfect. I simply lacked faith.

Special needs children bring uncertainty into their parent's lives but there are no guarantees with any child. A mixture of faith and realistic thinking that brought me around. Once the truth is embraced, the fear loses its negative power. I also started pursuing my own dreams again; writing, church, volunteering and advocacy with a special education group in my county.

All any parent can hope for ultimately is that their child is happy and productive as an adult. Things will never be easy for Caroline but my husband and I will stick with her as long as it takes so she can find her place in the world.

Theresa Kelly Darr and her family live in Baltimore, Maryland.