Each child brings something into a family when he or she arrives. Each individual is directly affected by the other members of the family and impacts the unit as a whole. A child with special needs adds a special dimension and provides a unique perspective for every family member.
When a child is compromised by special needs and challenges, the family spends time and effort searching for solutions and providing services to help the child move towards their potential. The family may be inundated by appointments, increased travel, missed occasions or celebrations, having to bring siblings to therapies, etc. The special needs child is often the focus of the family’s time and attention. The brother or sister may have ‘waiting room syndrome’ or want to know why they are treated differently. The parents may expect too much of the siblings and possibly too little of the special needs child as they try to learn how best to support the child and the family. With all the difficulty and worries, the special needs child brings a breath of fresh air and a chance for each human being to appreciate the gift of life and intimacy.
A child with special needs pulls the family together in an unspoken bond. They encourage each of us to delve deep within our souls to become thankful for the opportunity and the pleasure to give of ourselves to those we love. They help us see the important things and to appreciate each moment fully. We see our own vulnerability and are at peace with our individuality. The child with special needs holds a mirror up to their family members to reflect the challenges in each, making each grateful for whom they are and what they offer to the family unit. Our perspective of life and family and intimacy takes front seat, putting all else carefully behind.
Every special child or young adult I have the privilege to work with offers me an opportunity to rejoice in their specialness and appreciate their hard work to move forward. Each special needs child offers every life they touch a chance to be the best they can be. A very special gift indeed!
Sharon Hensel-Cohen is a speech/language pathologist in private practice in Tarzana and is the Director of Nicky’s World, a Center for limited and non-verbal communicators and their families.