The youngest of our three incredible kids has high-functioning autism, and its been about 7 years since he was diagnosed. This has brought a whole other dimension of family and parenting experiences to us. Our special needs community is a vital part of our family life today, but it wasn’t always that way.
For the first few years after our youngest son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, I really didn’t want to meet other families of kids on the spectrum. Didn’t want to join any groups, attend any socials, share our story. I was sure that our little guy was different. That other families were experiencing challenges much more intense than our own, and that I could not relate to them. That it wasn’t important to us, or to Justin.
But in hindsight, I realize that I just didn’t want to identify with ‘special needs’ or ‘disability’ … it seemed like a sign of weakness somehow. I wanted to fix this situation (spoiler alert … this is a theme for me!) and move on. We were working hard for our son’s development, but sort of in denial that his diagnosis would shift something permanently in how we would experience parenting and family.
And over those early years he did make incredible strides, thanks to a wonderful team of teachers, speech and occupational therapists, and an incredibly loving and supportive family.
But his condition didn’t go away. It was more manageable, and he was developing and progressing, but clearly we were going to be in this for the long haul. And it felt like we were navigating it by ourselves. So slowly … ever so slowly … I started to plug into our special needs community. And it was POWERFUL, and such a blessing.
We are part of an amazing network of families of kids with special needs here in Hampton Roads, Spectrum Parents. Through this group of families raising kids with special needs, we support one another, we connect and are not alone on this journey. And as much as we integrate our kids in so many settings, its also great to have them play and experience things among other kids with similar lives. If you are in Hampton Roads, we would love to connect with you at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/spectrumparents/
But no matter where you live, this type of connection and community can enrich you and help you thrive! And maybe its not special needs, its something else that is part of your life experience … a challenge or weight that may be a bit lighter if shared with others. Even among the hundreds of social connections we all have in social media, many are superficial, and these deeper connections breathe honesty and life into us, I think.
More to follow in future posts in simple ways to get one going in your community. But you have to be a little vulnerable … to go out to an event, to share your story, to build connections. It will be SO worth it!