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Recipes for a Healthy You That Don't Involve Cooking: Should you judge a book by its cover?

There isn't a parenting handbook. When you have a child with a disability, the "handbook" is rewritten.

You’ve all heard it before, the child SCREAMING in the grocery store. The child who can’t sit still at the dinner table and plays under the table at the restaurant.  The teenager that makes funny sounds and repeats the same thing over and over again. Or the kid who walks in the hallway at school oblivious to his surroundings or rocks back and forth in the corner of the classroom.

Well, what about the parents of these children? This is normal to them because their child has Autism or a processing issue. They go to the store and know that when their child acts up people will look at them funny. They glare at them and say things under their breath like, “control your child” or “what is wrong with that mom.” I’ve heard it before. I’ve witnessed it. At one time in my life PRE children, I may have even had those words go through my head. We’re only human and its second nature to be intolerant of what is not considered to be the “NORM”.  

I’m a mom to a special needs child. He has epilepsy (although his medication is working and he’s seizure free for over 6 years now), had a stroke in-utero and has left hemi-paresis. His whole left side is weaker than the right and he has to use braces for his feet and his left hand. He didn’t walk until he was 21 months old.  He wasn’t potty trained until he was almost 11. He has processing issues because of where the brain damage occurred and can’t function as a typical 13 year old.

His math skills are at a 1st grade level and his reading and writing is at about a 2nd to 3rd grade level. He should be in the 8th grade but is in 7th. He is mildly cognitively impaired which means he’s a lot like Forrest Gump. I watched that movie again last year and balled my eyes out because of the similarities between Forrest and my son. He doesn’t talk like Forrest but he thinks like him. He’s what you would call SIMPLE MINDED.

My first relationship to the schools was because of his needs and I have since helped many parents become advocates for their children like I have for mine. I believe I was supposed to be my son’s mom. I also believe that all of the information that is in my head about Special Education Law and my son’s disabilities led me to help others. 

I’m here to tell you that there isn’t a handbook on parenting. We all go through life thinking we’ll be the BEST parent because we won’t do what our parents did or because we WILL do what our parents did. Then we have children. Every time I’ve talked to a woman that was pregnant, including myself, and they didn’t know what they were having, they’d say, “All I want is a healthy child, it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl.” When the child is born and either at birth or a little bit later as was in my case, you find out that your “healthy” child is not, the parenting “handbook” is now going to be rewritten for you. Since there isn’t one to begin with, you only know how you were parented for you. Well, your child isn’t you anymore. He or she is now something you have no clue how to handle.

Parents of special needs children go through a grieving process when their child is diagnosed. Sadness, anger, disbelief and then some. What we do with it is up to us. Well, part of the problem is going out and having strangers you don’t know give you that look. The struggle we have just to get to the store is something they’ll never truly understand.

I’m very fortunate that my child isn’t typically the one having the meltdown out in public. He never really was like that. In fact, he just started talking in front of people he barely knows. He never spoke in school when he was younger and the teachers actually didn’t believe me when I said he talks at home. I have a child with what I call a “silent” disability. Silent disabilities are ones that you can’t see too many outward signs of it.

Everyone knows when someone is in a wheelchair and they are not able to walk. The child with Autism or Cognitive Delay is interior and no one can see that just looking at them. When they open their mouth is usually when someone else will notice there is something off. What about children who can’t handle change as part of their disability?

I know lots of people without issues that can’t handle change, but those that do, they tend to lose their cool a lot easier. I know I can tell my son we’re doing these 3 things and add a 4th thing to do and he may give me a small problem but he still does it with me. I also know of some children that if you don’t let them know enough in advance that you are doing A, B, C they completely go on sensory overload and can’t function. They need to be taught how to handle life’s little unexpected twists and turns along the way but young children and especially hormonal teenagers can’t process this. Everything to them is skewed slightly so to speak. It’s almost as if they see things through a different colored pair of glasses. They aren’t the rose colored glasses that we see in some people. They are more of a grey color with a twist of black running through them. 

My child was born without a sense of humor or a sarcasm bone so to speak. CAN YOU IMAGINE?? I am someone who can be very sarcastic when necessary but I have a sense of humor that is typically good! We had to teach my son how to have humor. He is a literal boy and it takes him some time to realize that people are joking with him. But what about the child that thinks things are funny when they are in fact, disrespectful and rude? No matter how many times you try to teach it to them, they still don’t get it? Again, there is no parenting handbook.

I don’t think I’d ever have thought of these things as a young woman wanting to be a parent. I would have never believed that certain things needed to be taught not through your actions but through your words. I know I learned a lot by being told what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I also learned a lot by the actions of my parents. Some of these kids don’t process that information properly and have to be taught it over and over again. It’s very exhausting. 

I have one son. I now have a bonus child. I have always said that I had one child for a reason. I have also always said that my hat is off to those of you who have more than one. I can’t imagine. Well, I am now a “parent” to two boys. They are a year apart. They are on two totally different ends of the scale, so to speak. One with processing issues who is 13 and acts like he’s 8 on some days and 13 on other days. The bonus child is 12 and he acts like he’s 12 going on 30 some days and acts 2 on other days. Although that’s normal for most boys his age, he has added silent disabilities too. My hat is off to the parents out there that handle more than one child, with or without a disability. 

One thing that I have learned along the way is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I have no idea what happens in the four walls of anyone’s home. I have no idea why a child chooses to throw something across the room at the store because it’s not what he wants. I can’t even begin to tell you why another child can’t sit still at dinner and decides that it’s more fun under the table at the restaurant.

We can all think to ourselves that the parents need to learn how to parent. But we can all think to ourselves that there isn’t a parenting handbook and when we are perfect in our parenting world, than we can judge those that SEEM to not know how to be parents. 

With 2012 coming to a close, my wish for all of you is to find kindness in your heart for those that seem to be struggling. Find kindness in your heart for the mom who is working 2 jobs trying to make ends meet and handling a child with temper issues in the store. Give your smile to someone who could obviously use yours if there isn’t one on their face. Pay it forward if you are able to, whether it’s to give a nice word of encouragement to someone who is obviously having a rough day while you are out and about or just to compliment them in some way. People are struggling out there with their self-worth these days and so are our children. We need to be more tolerant and understand that just because someone or something isn’t considered the “norm” for us, isn’t the “norm” for someone else. We need to be more compassionate to others and more acceptable of others. The next time you are out and about and you see that screaming child who is yelling at their parents think twice before assuming they are bad parents.  The next time you see a parent yell at a child, remember you don’t know what was going on up to that point.  We don’t know that the child wasn’t screaming at them the entire ride over to that store or building you saw them at. 

I’m just asking that we are more tolerable instead of judgmental in 2013. Showing kindness to others and being more compassionate for all of us will only help and make things better in the long run. I know that now that I have a son with a “silent” disability, I tend to be less likely to jump to conclusions of others’ and more likely to give a look of understanding to the parents. Be kind-hearted in 2013! 

Happy New Year to all of you and may 2013 bring you love, joy and happiness!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Julie Long December 31, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Thanks for putting into words some of the very samethoughts I have as the mom of a son with a disabilty that is not obvious all the time. Great job!
unknownauthor December 31, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Will said my friend. Happy New Year to you and your wonderful family.
Colette Richards December 31, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Glad I was able to help relay your thoughts as well Julie! I wasn't sure if I was getting out what I needed to in this blog. I know I missed stuff.
Colette Richards December 31, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Happy New Year to you too Sanae!! Enjoy your time with your family!!
Natasha January 02, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Good job sister! As always. Very thought-provoking!

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