The Best Part of Special Needs Parenting. No, Really.

October 17, 2014

A few months back, I got an email asking a few of us special needs moms to share the “gifts” of special needs parenting. The responses would be published and the world would probably be a better place. I like to see my name in lights as much as anybody else, but I looked over at my autistic son who was talking to a crayon, I looked down at the stack of bills due this month, and said, yeah, maybe not today.

But the question stayed with me.

Don’t misunderstand me here. My son is amazing, and I love parenting this kid. But the question, as I decided to interpret it anyway, was what is great about parenting a child with special needs, not what is great about your kid with special needs. The latter is a much easier answer, but that’s not the answer I set out to find.

I thought about it. If you get past the therapies and the bills and the education issues and the worrying about the future, keep going beyond all the doctors and the teetering patience and the stress, if you really, really look, is there something back there, hiding, that is uniquely awesome about all this?

I had come up empty-handed for a few months now. But then…

We were cruising through the Ace Hardware, and my son found some PVC piping. He plopped himself down on the floor, grabbed a few pieces, and started configuring them together. A sales woman approached us, asked if we were finding what we needed, and in response, my son asked, “Oh hi, can you make a B-29 from this?” The sales woman said to me what everyone says to me, “I think you have an engineer on your hands here.” I smiled, and said what I always say. “Maybe.”

My son’s measurable mechanical talents live right next door to the fact that, at 8, he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in the middle of the PVC aisle at Ace Hardware and assemble WWII aircraft. An engineer? Maybe. The truth is I don’t really care.

Wait. Say that again. The truth is I don’t really care. At all. I have no attachment to any plan that my son become an engineer, a pilot, or the CEO of the next Google.

I have great attachment, however, to the hope that he is happy.

Well, wow.

In the middle of a hardware store, I stumbled upon the special needs parenting pot of gold. If my son were typical, if we didn’t work so, so hard on what comes naturally to other kids, I can assure you that I would have his happiness tied to long-term education and career goals, all bundled together with socially-praised measures of success.

I have absolutely none of that.

I want my son to find his place in this world, wherever that is, and I want him to be happy. That’s it. I think this is about as pure and lovely as it gets. For the first time ever, I can honestly thank autism for something.



  1. btg5885

    I think in the heart of all parents, that is the goal. We often try to define their material success as ours, but it is not really ours. We want them to succeed, but people will fail at various tasks and relationships along the way and so will they. So, we just want them to be happy. I want them to try various things on and do more of what they love to do. I heard a great storyteller speak of a pearl of wisdom a veteran waitress gave his daughter. She told her, life is a lot like carnival. You go and see the various tents and the ones you end up hanging around are what you should spend time doing.

    I find your self awareness refreshing. Thanks for sharing your story. Best wishes for happiness for you and your son. BTG

  2. Dana

    That’s it. That is truly all I am aiming for. Happiness for my son. You have perfectly said what I have perfectly felt for a very long time. And it ties into a sappy song that I have felt perfectly matched my love for A since I was pregnant with him. And that song and it’s meaning has not changed with who he is now. Thank you.

  3. Cindy Strom

    WOW. You are 100% right. I never really put all of my emotions together to add up to this, but it is spot on. We work so so so hard on things that come naturally to typically developing kids (walking, talking), and yet all I want is for Jack to be happy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your journey with the interwebs! xo

  4. lisagaylesmith1963

    When my guy with autism was really little and showed a fleeting interest in tinker toys, his dad (thinking we had hit on something) ran to the hardware store and bought a HUGE amount of PVC pipe and hundreds of fittings. There were Ts and elbows galore. He cut all the pipe into lengths that could be used to build all kinds of huge fortresses…. It was a blast. For Dad. And occasionally we were able to engage our son and build a fort for him to sit and stim in. I was reminded of all that when you mentioned the pipe and engineer thing. We have so much in common. -Quirks and Chaos

  5. hollygaunt

    Wow. You have totally put my thoughts into words, amazing post.

    By the way, I hope you don’t mind, but I linked to one of your recent posts in my blog- I found it very inspirational.

    Thanks for writing such great stuff! Holly x


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