A Tribute to Mothers of Children with Special Needs
My Max bounded towards me, arms loaded with a bouquet of flowers and a Mother’s Day card. He dropped both items into my hands and just as quickly darted away. With a little prompting Max came back and muttered, “Happy Mother’s Day,” grinning impishly before bounding away again. I smiled as I reflected upon how far we have come over these years. I remembered the early days when I feared that my son might never be able to talk or form relationships with people - including me. Max would receive many labels over the years: hyperactive, developmentally delayed, mentally retarded, and autistic. I would be given a label as well: Mother of a Special Needs Child.
In honor of all mothers who have children with special needs, we here at ADHD Central wish to pay a special tribute to you by exploring what it means to be a mom to a child who has both unique gifts and challenges.
When you are a mom of a child with special needs…
• You have the extra challenge of seeing your child beyond all the labels and diagnostic descriptors. When you hold your baby for the first time you aren’t thinking about ADHD or autism or other labels. But as your child grows older, teachers and professionals begin to use special words and acronyms to describe your child. All of a sudden you have a name for all that you have been witnessing. You look at your son or daughter and you might wonder, “Who is this?” You read a list of diagnostic symptoms and behaviors and they are recognizable. But they don’t say anything about your child’s freckles or their love of teddy bears or the way they giggle over popping soap bubbles in the bathtub. You have to remind yourself and others that your child is so much more than a label. Your child is “special” because they are a unique human being and not just because they have more challenges than some children.
• People may bestow you with super-human powers when they hear that you have a child with special needs. All of a sudden you are transformed into a superwoman, saint, or full of never-ending patience. In truth, we are just as vulnerable, imperfect, and as impatient as anyone else. Some of us may feel pressure to not just be a mom but a supermom who can fix or cure any of our child’s difficulties. We need to be reminded, as I am now reminding you, that you are human and your powers are not limitless or magical. This fact doesn’t make you any less of a good parent. Your child needs you, not some mythical perfect mom who doesn’t exist anyway.
• Certain words hurt a whole lot more when you are the mother of a child with special needs. I remember the first time I heard the word “retarded” used in jest after my son was diagnosed with developmental delays. We were at a mall and two teens were using the word to banter with each other. That particular word never hurt before but then it did. As mothers, our personal radar is turned up to being more sensitive to certain words and how they are used to portray people with disabilities.
• As a mother to a child having special needs you may feel under more scrutiny than other moms. Some of this is not paranoia but real judgment from society. Just ask any mom who takes their child who has behavioral difficulties into public places. Some of us get stares, glares, or even accusations based upon our child’s behavior. People may jump right to the conclusion that your child is a brat and that you are a bad parent. It is a far too common event for parents of children who have ADHD to be accused of causing their child’s behavior due to poor parenting. And it was only decades ago when blaming mothers for autism was a widely accepted view, with proponents claiming that “refrigerator mothers” with a cold temperament forced their child into withdrawing from the world and being autistic. For all the moms out there who have been hurt by the blame game, I want to say to you, you did not cause your child’s disability or disorder. So many mothers feel the added baggage of feeling responsible for their child’s condition. There are certain things in this world that you have no control over, and your child’s disorder is one of them.
• When you are the mother to a child having special needs, you truly appreciate all the little but hugely meaningful gains in your child’s progress. When my son first called me mommy he was not a toddler but a school-aged child. For another parent this event would have been expected and uncelebrated. But for me that single word uttered from my child’s lips was my beacon of hope. We hope that you will share your child’s gains and milestones here so we can celebrate them with you.
For all the moms who come here to ADHD Central for help and support, we want to wish you a very Happy Belated Mother’s Day. I do hope your day was special.
There are many frustrations and challenges to being the mom of a child with special needs but there are also many joys and blessings as well. One such silver lining is that I would have never met all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of connecting with over the years had it not been for my son’s challenges. I am extremely grateful to be here and to be able to share my experience - and more importantly to hear yours. So keep your thoughts, inspirations and stories coming! We always love to hear from you. Thank you for being such a vital part of this community.