Chicago mom Dana Garcia loves taking her daughter Kelsi on
errands around town. "Everyone loves her," Garcia says. "Kelsi
changes the stereotypes of Down syndrome. It's hard to describe,
but there is a light that shines within her."
As special needs parents, a lot of times our minds get stuck on
the difficult parts of raising differently abled kids. We focus on
doctor appointments, therapy goals and Individualized Education
Plans. We worry about socialization at school. Dietary or sensory
restrictions make a trip to the grocery store, if we actually find
food our kids can and will eat, morph into an epic conquest.
With such busy lives, it's easy to forget about the good
But here's the catch. Like Garcia points out, and as we parents
know, regardless of the disability or delay, there are good things
about parenting kids with special needs.
Great things, in fact.
Sometimes we just have to force ourselves to slow down a little
in order to notice.
When asked, several parents jumped at the chance to share good
things about parenting their kids.
"When I see my daughter working on a computer in her
kindergarten class, I realize how much she knows that I don't see
every day. It lightens my heart," says Bonnie Goodwin, mom to
7-year-old Ella, who has Down syndrome.
"My son AJ learned to swing this week, cross the midline with
his arms while juggling a ball, and do every-other foot on the
stairs. We had an awesome week," Marcie Pikelsimer gushes.
"If any of us worked as hard as my child has to get to this
point in his life we would all be rock stars with multiple Ph.D.s
and a few Nobel Peace Prize awards under our belts," says RaeAnn
Collins about her son Sam, who has multiple disabilities. "Our kids
should be celebrated for the incredible amount of effort they put
forth each day."
It's true. Regardless of how big or small the gain, the point is
that our kids are growing. Each milestone is worthy of
Other parents point out how their children with special needs
bring out the good in them.
"I'm not sure I can pinpoint a specific moment, but when Kelsi
was around 2 years old and the fog had lifted from medical
complications, I had a realization," Garcia says. "I knew how much
better of a person, mother, and friend I was going to be because of
this little girl."
Anne Wilson, mom to Sean who is 11 and has autism, ADHD, OCD,
and is non-verbal, understands the lessons her son teaches her as
"Sean makes me think differently about how things work. When I
have to figure out how to explain something to him, it gives me
more compassion for everyone and helps me to remember not to judge
Adds mom Ann Bremer, whose 10-year-old son John has Down
syndrome and has survived leukemia: "Every day I'm reminded of
what's really important, and it isn't what car I drive or what
clothes I wear or how much money I have. It's living life to the
fullest regardless of limitations. It's celebrating long-worked-for
Are the good things about parenting kids with special needs
limited to the growth of the child and parent? A resounding no, the
They point to other good things, like camaraderie and friendship
found in the 'special needs club,' the ways our children cause
others around them to grow simply by being themselves, and the
encouragement, help and friendship provided by organizations,
doctors, extended family, and friends who choose to walk the path
of special needs along with us.
Kids with special needs change stereotypes every day.
"There is never a time that we are walking into a store,
restaurant, church, school, anywhere, that her sweet 'Hi' doesn't
make someone smile," says Sarah Alzamora about her 5-year-old
Not only do parents get to change and grow, but we are allowed
the privilege of seeing that change and growth in people around us
because of our kids.
"I love the club of parents you are inducted into when you have
a child with special needs. Sometimes, you don't even have to
exchange words. It's just the smile that can remind you that you
are not in it alone. And that's what you need when it's been a
tough morning," says mom Michelle Aventajado.
Jennifer Doloski is thankful for the help and care her son and
family receive. Her son, Joshua, is 7 and has Bruck Syndrome, a
rare genetic condition that combines features of Osteogenesis
Imperfecta, Arthrogryposis and severe scoliosis.
"If not for Joshua I would not know the awesomeness that is
Shriners Chicago. They are an amazing staff. It feels like visiting
family when we are there. They totally uplift and validate and
encourage me as a parent of a child with special needs," says
Special needs parenting is work. It requires advocacy, patience,
and a smartphone that can hold countless phone numbers. But here's
the fun stuff: It also provides opportunity for growth as
individuals, families and communities, and most always, gives an
overabundance of love.
"Often times, when it comes to our kids, I think we are the
lucky ones," Garcia says, smiling.
Gillian Marchenko is a Chicago mom of four, two of whom have Down syndrome.
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