A letter To The Parents Of A Struggling Child

Dear parent,

I know at times you feel so helpless and alone as you watch your child struggle. When we give birth and hear our babies cry for the first time from that moment on we want to help them and make everything right for them.

We don’t want them to be ill.

We don’t want them to be unable to eat.

We don’t want them battling for breath.

We don’t want them in pain.

We don’t want them to be the last to meet milestones.

We don’t want them emotionally or physically or socially struggling.

There is something about watching your child struggle that tears your heart in two. That feeling of uselessness, helplessness, having no control over things. That feeling that you should be the one to fix it all for them, comfort them, make it all better…but you can’t. That feeling of not being able to meet your child’s needs, whether that’s feeding them, holding them, carrying them or teaching them. That feeling of having to accept help for the sake of your struggling child.

I’ve been there too.

I know that feeling of failure well. That gut wrenching feeling as a parent when a nurse, therapist, teacher or doctor is the one that gets your child’s first eye contact or enables your child to say their first word. I understand that feeling of being robbed of something that should have been your privilege, not theirs. I’ve experienced that feeling of despair, the wanting to give up, the inadequacy that comes with having a child who is struggling.

I’ve cried so many tears and I’m sure you have too.

No-one wants to be the parents of the child who isn’t talking when all their peers are. No-one wants to be the parents of the child who has failed their six week check up, two year check up and even their pre-school check up. It’s a kick in the teeth for all the hard work and investment in your child when all they see is still a struggling child.

I know the fights. The fights to prove you are a good parent and your child’s struggles are not due to neglect. The fight to get your child help. The fight to be listened to. The fight for the right educational environment for your child to thrive. The fight for basic equipment to help. The fight for support. The mental fight to get through each day.

I know the fears: for the future, for their education, because they are so vulnerable.

When you are the parent of a struggling child it means you struggle too.

Too many judge.

Too many are ignorant.

Too many refuse to understand.

Too many ignore.

Having a struggling child is lonely. It’s isolating. It’s heartbreaking.

But I also know you are doing everything you can and more. Your determination, courage and strength shines through you. No-one could love, encourage or support your child more than you do.

You’ve got this.

My child struggles too. Their struggles may not be the same ones your child faces but that doesn’t matter. We are still in this together.

Stay strong my friend. There will be better days ahead.

Your child may be struggling but that’s not your fault. Hold your head high and show the world who you are.

You are not a failure for having a struggling child.

You are not to blame.

You are a wonderful parent.

Never ever forget that,

Yours,

A fellow parent of a struggling child.

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My Disabled Child Is Still A Child

Before I had children of my own I genuinely thought parents pretty much stuck together. I mean after all aren’t we all in the same situation struggling with lack of sleep, worrying for our children’s future and tidying up toys every day?

Then I had a disabled child and I discovered that somehow that changes things.

Other parents no longer talk to me about standing on Lego because they assume I won’t relate since my child can’t play with Lego.

Other parents don’t mention all the activities their child does after school and how they feel like a glorified taxi driver taking their kids to dance, swimming and karate. They know my child isn’t able to do these things so they don’t bother to share about them with me.

Other parents don’t message me for advice even if my child is older than theirs because they assume I won’t know anything about normal child development since my child is disabled.

I could go on. I’m sure you get the point though.

There is an assumption by other parents and society in general that my disabled child is somehow not really a child like other people’s. They assume my parenting is nothing like theirs.

So let me tell you something very important: disabled children are still children.

They still have toys.

They still watch TV.

They still try and get away with more time on technology than they should.

They still turn their nose up at sprouts, throw toys in frustration and demand all our time.

They also outgrow clothes and shoes quickly, lose teeth at the same time as other children, go to school and learn, hate homework and catch the cold like other kids.

Yes every single child is unique, every life is different and my child struggles to do many many things other children do naturally (like speaking for example) but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear about your parenting issues nor does it mean I won’t relate.

You might be surprised to know we actually have more in common than you realise.

I have a disabled child. That may mean some parts of parenting are a little different to others but at the core my son is just a child like any other and I am a parent like other parents too.

Please treat me like any other parent. Please see my disabled child as a child just like yours.

We are all in this together and we have much more in common than we both realise.

Oh and my son may not play with Lego but I can still appreciate how sore it is to stand on. You have my sympathy there.

My Ten Year Old Son Doesn’t Know What Christmas Even Is

As his twin sister races downstairs eager to open another door on her advent calendar, excitedly counting down the days to Christmas Day, you watch TV flapping like any other day.

As your twin sister practices Christmas songs after school in preparations for her Christmas show in two weeks time you watch the same ten seconds of lifts on you tube and rock in your seat as you always do.

Christmas means nothing to you.

No letters to Santa, and definitely no visits to any grottos.

No decorating a tree with the family or even any concept of what tinsel is.

No singing Christmas carols or dancing to seasonal pop songs as they play in the shops.

It all means nothing to you.

Your world is oblivious to the hype, the busyness, the traditions that consume society at this time of year.

You would eat turkey and all the trimmings if it’s put in front of you, but you would equally eat any other meal presented too. It’s just food to you, nothing more, nothing less.

My autistic ten year old has no understanding or interest in Christmas. He is still consumed by his own world, dependent entirely on routine, not communicating verbally at all.

Honestly, some days that breaks my heart. I know we should not compare children as each child is unique and individual but at Christmas you want your child to be excited, happy, expectant. Instead my son is uninterested, unconcerned and unaware.

Christmas isn’t his ‘thing’. Neither is Easter, his birthday, the tooth fairy or any other number of occasions you can think of. None of it enters his world.

He won’t write any Christmas cards (he can’t write any letters let alone his name) and he likely won’t receive any either, family events and get togethers are too much for him so I stay home with him. The only Christmas event he will come to is the church service but even then he gets very upset because it’s different to how he perceives church to be. He doesn’t know Christmas carols and he wants the usual songs he is used to back.

He doesn’t like the changes.

He doesn’t like new stuff.

He doesn’t like Christmas.

I can’t change that. It’s who he is and how he is. I could cry my eyes out every day for years but it won’t change things. I’ve had a decade of crying and wishing things were different. I have accepted that Christmas just isn’t something my ten year old understands nor does he wish to partake in it.

Even if I bought him presents he would never open them. He’s never opened a birthday or Christmas present in his life.

I could pretend it’s all ok. I could move a tree near where he is and take a picture and pretend he’s part of it all. I could put seasonal clothes on him and imagine he chose them. I could buy and wrap stuff for him and dream that somehow the magic of Christmas would change him overnight. All that would do is break my heart more.

I don’t need that. He doesn’t need that.

So while I decorate my daughters bedroom with her and revel in her excitement, while I buy and wrap gifts for her eagerly looking forward to seeing her face on Christmas morning, while we sing and laugh together as we practice Christmas songs the other side to my life is that I am playing down everything as much as possible to keep my son at ease.

I walk a fine line of trying to celebrate and embrace Christmas with one twin whilst ignoring it’s very existence with the other.

My son has severe learning difficulties, severe autism and epilepsy. He can’t speak. He can’t care for himself.

He is full of life, full of fun and the love of my life.

But at ten years old he still doesn’t know what Christmas even is…and he most likely never will.

My Severely Autistic Son DOES Have A Bright Future

Six and a half years ago when I took my toddler to a clinic and left with a diagnosis of severe non verbal autism , pica and global developmental delay my heart broke. It didn’t end there either. Six months later he was diagnosed with a progressive genetic condition. A year later he added vision impairment to his list. At seven he added an optic glioma, a form of brain tumour and at nine, epilepsy.

As I write this he is ten, with the developmental age of a one year old, the speech of a nine month old baby (he is non verbal), he isn’t yet potty trained and requires round the clock care. He has to be medicated twice daily to keep major seizures at bay. He needs six monthly MRI tests to monitor his brain tumours.

On paper his future doesn’t look good.

I have spent so much time breaking my heart for my son and all he will miss in life. He likely won’t fall in love, get married, have a family, have a job, learn to drive, attend college or university or live independently; all the things parents expect from their children as they grow. He can’t yet write his name, he’s never attended mainstream education and his care needs are so high I have been his full time carer since he was born.

So given all that information how can I possibly say my son has a bright future?

Quite simply this: Quality of life isn’t determined by what other people think.

I thought my child should find a partner, perhaps have a family of his own, get a job, drive, contribute to society in some way and make a difference. I thought he should go to school, perhaps onto college or university then find happiness and fulfilment in a career of his choice.

But who says any of this is a bright future? Who determines these things as quality of life?

In actual fact my son has an amazing future ahead of him, one very different to how I imagined, but even more incredible!

He’s never going to carry the burden of responsibility so he won’t stress about interest rates, taxes, mortgages or company shares.

He’s never going to become embroiled in complex relationships so won’t experience the heartache of divorce or family breakups.

He will remain blissfully sheltered from many of the awful things that life carries with it like murder, abuse, political turmoil, homelessness, drugs or wars.

His simple life will be the envy of many.

His needs will be met, either by carers or myself, for as long as I live. He has a sister who adores him and who I know will do all she can to make sure he is looked after too.

He will spend his future not in the drudgery and stress of daily commutes to work or long shifts but in doing what he loves most. He’ll be taken swimming, the cinema, cafes, shops, garden centres and day trips. It will be like he’s retired without ever having to have done the fifty plus years employment first.

Clothes and food will be provided for him. Other people will arrange whatever finances are required, drive him or support him in transport and make sure he is happy and well.

His future is, in fact, what so many of us would dream of. He will watch what he wants on TV, explore the world via google street map and see family often.

He will, as he already does, be surrounded by love, respect and support.

I’ll take him to as many lifts as he wants because his years of education will be complete.

I am not deluded. I am not just looking at life from rose tinted glasses. I am fully aware that my son will always need a huge level of care and that I may not always be around to give him that. I, more than anyone, understand how vulnerable and naive he is and always will be. I know i will fight budget cuts, endless complex forms to have control of his finances and health needs and that I will likely get little to no respite when he passes from children’s care teams to adult care teams.

This won’t be easy for ME but for HIM the future is bright.

We are so quick as a society to assume that anyone with learning disabilities, severe autism or complex needs is a burden. We see their quality of life as somehow less because it doesn’t follow the tradition path of higher education, work and raising the next generation. We see their inability to pay taxes as somehow awful and view them as beneath others.

My son, and thousands of others, walk a different path in life. They face a future quite different to that which we see as ‘normal’. Yet their future, their existence, their needs, are not in any way less or second class.

My severely autistic son’s future is full of life, love and fulfilment. That to me is the epitome of a bright future and quality of life.

I am looking forward to it and if he understood what the future was I know he would be excited too.

A Nine Year Old’s Letter To Her Disabled Brother

Dear Isaac,

I know you can’t ever read this but maybe one day I will read it to you. Maybe one day you will understand.

Tonight when you moaned and screamed when I was trying to watch a video you made me grumpy. I still love you even when I got mad at you and I am secretly glad you are well enough to scream and moan now.

The last two days I have watched you have lots of seizures and I have been so worried about you. I worry you might go to hospital or you might faint. When you have lots of seizures I don’t like going to school or leaving you. I call your name to try and wake you up. I prefer you wide awake and acting normal. I miss your screaming and being noisy when you have seizures. It’s like you are there but not there. You scare me but I still love you. I pray God will stop your seizures soon because I want you better.

One time I counted you had at least 7 naps in one day. I played card games with mum and dad and still you didn’t wake up. That made me sad. I missed you that day so much.

When you have a bath I really want to play with you and have fun but just as I start to have fun with you you push me away and makes me cry. Why do you do that? I wish you could talk to me and tell me. I would understand. I love you.

I love going on trains with you and going to the park. You are always happy in those places. I know you love me pushing the roundabout for you. I like seeing you on the swing too because I got you that swing for you, though I know you will never understand that. I did it because I don’t think life is fair to you and its better when you are happy. When you are happy I am happy too.

You keep me awake with his noises at night and wake me up early. I forgive you. Always.

You kill my fish by feeding them. Feeding fish is good Isaac but maybe not with talcum powder, toothpaste, trains and bubble bath! You do lots of naughty things like use felt pens on the armchairs, tipping bins, pulling pictures off walls, wandering away, and you always have to be first in the house. You make mummy and daddy sad but I want to tell you it’s ok. We all forgive you. We all love you. Sometimes we might be mad but we always forgive. We know you don’t mean it, though I have some baby fish now so it would be good if you just let ME feed them. Would that be ok?

Sometimes you get more attention. Mum is always bathing you because you scream and throw things if she doesn’t. You always want to go out even if I don’t want to and it sometimes feels like you always get your own way. It’s not really fair but I still love you.

You can scream very loudly. You hit me all the time. Please can you be gentle? Until them I will be patient while you learn.

There are things you can’t do. You can’t talk or write or read. I know you can’t read this but maybe you will understand if I read it to you. Maybe.

You can play just in a bit of an awkward way like tipping things on the floor or eating teddies. You only sometimes cuddle me but that’s ok.

You can be funny though. You try to push the roundabout AND get in it at the same time! You throw your fork away when you have finished eating because you forget we can wash them. You put your fork in-between your toes and then pick up food with your fingers. That’s clever and funny. You put your iPad behind your bed and think it will magically charge there. You chew charging leads and then wonder why they don’t work anymore. You make me smile and I really love you.

You never walk to school because it’s 14 miles away. You get star of the week more than me because there are less children in your class. That’s unfair! You get it for silly things too. But you never have show and tell. That would be funny because you can’t tell anything anyway. That must be hard because I know you want to say so much.

You are always on google maps. I think that’s amazing and clever. Some people don’t think you are smart but you are.

You never get to be secret student like me. My school is doing secret student now and I was secret student today in my class. When I was chosen I thought of you. Would you know what that is? The more I get bigger the more I wonder about things that you might never do or understand. You know what though, I think they chose me deliberately because I was having a bad day. I went to school crying today because you had some of those seizure things again and I want to make sure you are ok. I can’t be a good sister if I am at school can I? I’m sorry I left you.

My friends don’t understand what it’s like having a brother like you.

Sometimes I don’t want them to even know about you. I worry they would say nasty things about you because you are different or say nasty things about me. My best friend knows about you though. She worries that you may hit me but I don’t like her questioning things about you. It’s hard to explain about you because you are just, well, you are just very special and sometimes precious things are best kept secret. Is that ok?

Sometimes I love you Isaac. Sometimes I hate you. It’s hard having a brother like you but it’s also easy having a brother like you. It’s hard to live with you but its easy to love you. Really easy.

You are my friend sometimes and a bully other times. I wish we could be friends more. I am going to try and help you do that.

You teach me how to be patient and that it’s ok to be different.

I want to be there for you when you are bigger. I want mummy to teach me to care for you. Please let me do that will you?

Please try and keep learning. I believe in you. I will teach you. I can do dividing with remainders now and everything! But what I am most happy about doing is making you smile.

You are the best brother in the world even when you make me cry. I know I make you cry too.

You help me. I help you. How does that sound?

If you can’t say yes just sign it please.

It’s ok because I understand.

With love,

your sister Naomi

Why I Struggle When My Special Needs Child Gets ‘Star of the Week’

So my 9 year old son came home from school on Friday with a certificate and photograph in his bag. There was no eagerness to show me and no message in his school diary; it was just there. Of course I am proud of him and told him so and absolutely it will be displayed on his bedroom wall to honour his achievements like his sisters are in her room. That is never in doubt. However, I have to be honest and say I really struggle when my son gets ‘star of the week’ and here is why:

1. It reminds me just how far behind he is academically.

It’s a sobering thought that my son has been at school five and a half years and is still working at pre-school levels in many subjects. The very fact he still has no idea that star of the week is any sort of aspirational incentive to even aim for says it all. He isn’t being modest or shy in not showing me his certificate; he honestly still doesn’t get the whole social aspect of celebrating achievement in any way. His twin sister commented on his award saying ‘well done Isaac but…’ and she went on to ask why he is still so far behind her. That’s hard. You see I live with my child daily and I know he struggles but seeing it on paper seems to somehow make it raw. It hurts. I am proud of my son but sad that he is behind so much. I don’t think anyone wants their child to be 7 or so years behind their peers in any way.

2. It makes me scared for the future.

I try not to think of the future. I live everyday and enjoy the moment but wisdom would tell me that I do need to plan for the future too. I shared my sons achievement on social media and today someone asked me in person what happens to children like my son when they finish education. The reality is my son will likely not be suitable for college and academically will never reach the level required for university. Employment is pretty unlikely too so our current options include him living at home and attending day care services. That’s not what I planned for my child when I conceived him and carried him for nine months, and although I do need to be mentally prepared for this seeing his star of the week award just feels like his future is all planned out and that is scary. His options are limited and seeing his academic ability on a laminated sheet makes that a stark reality. I won’t lie, that is hard to accept.

3. It makes me feel he is being defined by his ability to learn.

When I think of my child I think of am energetic, fun loving, teddy chewing, mischievous little brown eyed boy who does the best squeezy hugs and who loves his food. I think of the child who has incredible gifts in communication despite having no spoken language. I get so much joy from singing along to the songs he plays on his iPad and going to lifts with him. I see a child who gets so excited every time Bing Bunny comes on the TV that he bounces in the armchair he is sitting in. I see a child who could go hundreds of miles to places on google street map even though he has significant visual impairment. I don’t see his lack of ability to read or write or speak as an issue and none of those difficulties define him. So when I see his star of the week award I hope that this is not just how society sees my child either.

My son will always struggle with some things. Professionals and medical specialists have told me it is unlikely my son will ever speak to me. Education have told me he won’t ever attend a mainstream school and college or further education is unlikely. It’s a very sobering thought but with that comes my absolute determination that my son should never ever be defined by his struggles.

So I will stick his award on his bedroom wall and smile. It’s great he has been recognised. It’s great he is making progress but I never forget that for everyone of us life is much more than our ability to learn or how far we go in education.

I struggle when my son gets star of the week because his ability to achieve should never be limited to traditional education. I am raising a remarkable, brave and wonderful child who is breaking the mould in life. He is a star in so many more ways than just trying to write the digit 2. One of the many reasons I write about him is to help others see beyond his academically ability (or lack of) so I will stick that award up and get back to celebrating my son in every other way I do daily.

Don’t ever let educational achievement define anyone. We are much more than our ability to learn.

A Mother’s Cry: Can my Disabled Child Ever Become a Christian?

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It’s Easter Sunday, the very centre of my beliefs as a Christian, that my Lord and Saviour not only died for me on a cross to carry my sin, but he rose again on the third day to beat death once and for all to enable me (and everyone else who believes) to have eternal life.

I sat in church today and heard the gospel message preached with my beautiful children beside me, just the same as my parents did the generation before. I never tire of hearing the message of Jesus crucified and at 15 it impacted me personally on such a level my life has been rooted and grounded in my faith ever since.

Yet here I am faced with a massive question that has caused me to question my faith in a way I never ever expected: if he wanted to, could my disabled son ever become a Christian?

Why would I ask this? Well every tract I have ever read (there have been hundreds), every gospel message I have heard preached (there have been many) and every evangelist I have listened to have all taught a way to salvation that is fundamentally impossible for my child to ever achieve.

img_1145-1This is Isaac. He is, like everyone of us, made in the image of God. He is the most beautiful and incredible gift ever given to me. He is a true miracle having been prayed for and believed for against all odds. I was given medically less than 1% chance of ever having children yet after ten years of infertility God blessed me with not one, but two, babies. Isaac was the first born of twins. He has soft dark brown hair, hazel eyes that shine light and sparkle with life even if one of them doesn’t work and the other hides a tumour on its optic nerve. He makes noises, though at 9 and a half none of these noises form words that you and I can distinguish. He has severe autism. He has severe learning difficulties. He is epileptic. He has a brain tumour that means he will forever function as a very young child, most likely no more than aged 2 to 3 years.

So when I hear today’s gospel message once again I am crying, not only because the story of my Saviour always touches the very core of my being but because I know how the service will end and I can’t help wondering…

Can my disabled child ever be saved?

You see the way of salvation in the Bible is clear. It is based on such well known and readily quoted verses of so many believers: Romans chapter 10 and verse 9; “That if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I believe that.

But what if someone has such significant learning difficulties they will never understand and they can not speak their own name let alone say ‘Jesus is Lord’. What happens then?

Then there’s the famous one in John chapter 3 and verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I believe that too.

But what about those who are cognitively unable to believe?

I could go on and talk about sin, baptism, the work of the cross, bridging the gap between God and man and all sorts of things that preachers and tracts talk about. Not one of these things will ever be understood by my son.

If he can’t understand the story can he ever believe in God?

He is never going to raise his hand at an alter call. He will never go forward for prayer to turn his life around, he will never hold a microphone and testify to how he was once an addict and now he is a Christian.

The fact of life is, for my son, and so many others, we need to see salvation in a different way.

Maybe I am tearing up the theology books here, maybe I am shaking traditions, but I believe my baby boy will always be saved. He will never be the lost sheep that the Shepherd longed to find. He will never be the prodigal son. He will never sin. The acts of the sinful nature (according to Galatians chapter 5 verses 19-20) are sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like…one thing I can category say is that my son will never do these.

He embodies innocence. As Psalm 139 says he is fearfully and wonderfully made. Like us all he was made in the image of God. But unlike us, he can not choose to sin, neither can he choose to believe.

He can flap as we sing praises, he can make a joyful noise, he can rest in the presence of God. He can feel peace, experience joy and love deeply. I believe he can know God in his Spirit even if his mind and body don’t function as well as we would all like.

I believe he is in the palm of Gods hand.

I believe in grace that a loving God has searched my son and knows his heart, that he is familiar with all his ways. He alone created his inmost being.

God has this covered.

Can my son ever get saved when he can’t believe and confess like every preacher and tract says he has to?

I can’t quote you scripture but my mother’s heart cries out to a God who hears my prayers and is carrying my son both now and forever.

That’s my mother’s cry.

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