Category Archives: special needs

Impact of our Differently Gifted Children

A Note to Parents of Special-Needs Children by Maura Roan McKeegan

Earlier this month, in a story called “What I Saw on Respect Life Sunday,” I wrote about witnessing the love between parents and their special-needs children at Mass. This past weekend, by God’s grace, I had the privilege once again to see this kind of love in action when I sat at Mass in the pew behind my friend Marybeth and her daughter, Emily, who is autistic.

I have written before about Marybeth and Emily, and about the experience of being at Mass with them. The love between this mother and daughter has taken my breath away for years, ever since Emily was a little girl. Now an older teen, Emily still brightens every room with her childlike spirit, and renders me awestruck with her heartfelt devotion to the Mass.

When this Mass began, Marybeth and Emily opened the missalette, and together they followed along with the readings and prayers, Marybeth pointing to their place on the page, for the rest of the Mass. They found all the songs in the hymnal (hearing Emily belt out the name “Jesus” made me feel like I had a front-row seat to a worship session in heaven). When she recognized familiar Scripture verses and liturgical prayers, Emily recited them ardently along with the lector, deacon, or priest.

Over the years I’ve known her, Emily’s enthusiasm for every word and prayer of the Mass has never waned. Neither has the outward expression of the love between Marybeth and Emily waned; the way Marybeth puts her arm around Emily, and Emily leans into her mother’s shoulder—the back-and-forth of holding hands, rubbing backs, and touching heads—is a dance whose choreography hints of the divine.

Though I’ve seen this before, it always feels new, and so for the second time this month, the love between a parent and a special-needs child at Mass brought me to tears.

Afterwards, I was thinking about Marybeth and Emily; about the families I described in my previous article; about the other parents I know who have special-needs children; and about the grace that overflows in their presence. And I wondered—do these people know how much their witness means?

In case they don’t, I want to write this for them.

To the dear parents of special-needs children: We see you. (I am going to use the word “we,” because I know there are more people than just myself who feel the same way.)

We see the way you care for your child, the look of love in your tired eyes, and the gentle touch of your weary hand. We may not see you during the hours and hours you spend tending to your child’s needs in your home, when no one is watching. We don’t see you get up in the middle of the night, or do the same difficult things day after day after day. We can only imagine how much strength you need.

But we do see you when you bring your child out in public. Sometimes it is an enormous task for you to bring your sweet child somewhere, whether it’s because of how much effort it takes just to get from one place to another or because of how worried you are that your child will make noise in a quiet place. (We understand why it might make you self-conscious, but the noise your child makes doesn’t bother us a bit —in fact, to us, it sounds like heaven’s song.)

We see you, and we are so grateful. If you didn’t bring your child, we wouldn’t have the chance to witness your kind of love. A love that gives when more giving doesn’t seem possible. A love that emanates when your child smiles, talks, laughs, makes noise, and even when he gets upset, needy, and agitated. A love that reminds us that Christ loves us when we smile, talk, laugh, make too much noise, and even when we get upset, needy, and agitated.

If you didn’t bring your child out among us, we wouldn’t get to see this living picture of the love of God.

And yes, we know you aren’t perfect, and there are times when you don’t love perfectly. (We’re in the same boat.) That inspires us, too, because you keep going even when it’s hard, even when you don’t feel like you’re doing a good job, even when you don’t know if what you’re doing is really helping. Discouragement is part of love, too, when we’re human and want to love better and can’t seem to get it right no matter how hard we try. Don’t think for a minute that your feelings of failure from time to time make you less of a parent. They make you more of a parent. They prove how hard you’re trying to do a good job. If you weren’t trying, you wouldn’t feel like you’ve failed.

You’ve succeeded in what matters most: you have been faithful to the call to love and take care of your child, God’s child. And all of us who see that are blessed.

We also know that you’re not doing this for recognition, and that an onlooker’s expression of gratitude doesn’t hold a candle to the blessings you receive simply from being the parent of your extraordinary child. But everyone can use encouragement sometimes, and we want you to know that the work of your life does not go unnoticed.

May God grant you renewed strength as you drink from the stream of the Living Water. We also pray that, when you need help, you will feel comfortable enough to reach out to us, and that we will be able to support you as the Body of Christ.

Your child is beautiful; the way you care for your child is beautiful; and it is an honor and a privilege for us to bear witness to that love. In your example, the words of Jesus resound: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12).”

Curriculum is a Tool, Not a Goal

As we excitedly plan out our learning and lessons for next year it strikes me how the butterfly-joy welling up from within is based on the journey rather than thoughts of the completion of another year.  It feels like running into a dear friend who has been out of town for a while.

In the beginning, I thought it was about getting through a long list of requirements year by year.  The concept of being able to fall into a lesson of intrigue and remain there for as long as we wished is foreign- feeling somehow that it must be wrong, illegal, something.

After years of following my heart instinct, experiences have confirmed, in multiple ways due to various and sundry children’s testing, attending school, going to college, etc. that this method works.  But, it still feels confusing to educate in such a non-traditional manner.

We use books- many books but rarely follow one all the way through as we don’t believe that gives a worldview from which to platform discussions.  We learn how to learn traditionally because that is the world we live in.  However, day to day lessons are fluid, aimed at my children’s future selves, built toward their interests and gifts.  Rarely are two days alike.

There is rhythm to each day, there is sequence to our lessons, there is beauty as well as tears, and there is trepidation that I’m missing something, I’m doing it wrong, I’m fooling myself.  God is giggling right now as He whispers in my hear, “Katie, my beloved, that is faith.  Trust.”

Harmony- She is Illusive

Finding harmony based upon routine is one of a homeschoolers core daily struggles.  Even for those of us who are determined to maintain a fluid day, there must be some order.  When do the children wake, what lessons are the big slimy toads and need swallowing first, who needs what nutrition at what time in order to balance out minds and moods, do I answer the phone or pretend not to listen to the voice leaving a message, do I check emails or call it multi tasking as I take a potty break, and on and on.  So, fluid is wonderful, we strive for it, but what gives us the most harmony is doing as we ought to do based upon what routines we have put into place.  To let these go for a day, much less a week, means having to push start a solidly build iron caboose all over again.  Obviously we don’t relish that idea, so why not put it off for one more day, and one more day, and disharmony arrives without us even noticing.

Keeping motivated for our own chores, expectations, meaningful work etc. is only the beginning.  On top of this we must guide and encouargae our children in this same area- this same area that we so often stutter-start, falter, and fail in.  It is a constant seeking.  One that is most often just illusive enough to erringly convince us that it is unattainable.  —And then we grasp it; hold it for a few precious moments; become exhausted in the maintenance it requires; lighten our grasp– and out ‘she’ goes to be sought once again.  It is in the journey that we grow, not in the reaching of the destination.  That is the wonderful thing.  Enjoy the journey.

 

Dylexia, a Gift

We always have several gifted children in our family.  I consider dyslexia a gift, and am a recovering dyslexic myself.  At lease one of our children has this same gift, another is gifted with a processing disorder, and a third is gifted with developmental delays.  The rest are Run of the Mill Every Day Children.  We home school because God has called us in that direction, and what we have come to find out, is that it is the very best environment for our children.  It has given them the ability to work through and mature into their gifts at the proper pace.  We have done the testings, evaluations, therapies, etc.  They have their place certainly.  But, viewing these diagnosis as one would a hang nail makes all the difference in our world.  We can do our part to worry that little thing into infection, or we can guide toward toward slow and steady healing.  Parent(s), your approach will make all the difference in the world.  We could not find and follow the proper pace in a certified professional setting.  Therapy, aides, practice are not something we do once or twice a week at someone’s office (although we have certainly utilized these amazing opportunities and learned so much from them), these are things that we weave into our lives.

That being said, our home school platform is academic in nature, but our focus is to strengthen our character.  Through character we do our best each week rather than focus on an accumulation of worksheet pages or textbook completion.  Each child, no matter their giftedness, is at a different level in every subject.  That does not preclude our ability to expect each child to produce and participate to their best ability.  When I evaluate students who are said to be unable or incapable it has always boiled down to one of two things.  The parent is expecting too much or the parent is allowing the child to convince them that their lack of effort is connected to their lack of ability.

We love our children, we don’t want them to struggle.  But God does not promise us that His blessings are sweet pleasures.  Our children with all of their abilities and lack there ofs are blessings through and through.  How will we guide them?  To feel as though God made a mistake?  To feel sorry for the extra work it will take to achieve their best- which will be different than another persons best?  Or, to persevere and walk the course provided for them?  What other way is there?   Lay down that struggle of finding a cure, of finding the quickest way around.  The only way to achieve that end is to walk through this calling.  Create in your child a sense of wonder at the extra time God spent making them.  How many people are just like the normal Joe?  Praise God, you have a gift.  Praise God, you have a purpose beyond yourself.  Praise God,He has equipped you.  How often have you come through an ordeal to think, “I would never have wished to go through that, hope it never happens again, but am soooooo thankful that I went through X, Y, Z.”?  Walk through.   Nourish with peace.  Pace with prayer.

We created an academic focused Writer’s Circle (and beyond) so that all children could have a place of success as long as they were willing to work to their best ability.  Consider doing the same for your children.  If you are in our area please join us (ages 6-15).  In the past 6 years we have never had a child drop out because it was too difficult.  We have had a very few choose to leave because they were unwilling to put forth the effort.  Our expectations are individualized to each student as is ‘homeschool’.    We always have a mix of students who are brilliant mixed with gifted students.  It is inexplicable why it works so well, but the outcome each year amazes us again and again and again.  It is just something about Writer’s Circle.  I truly can’t explain it, it just is how we are.  I don’t have any formula or plan aside from what is previously stated.  Somehow, this combination of student abilities, teacher/parent expectations, and focus on kindness and hard work brings out the best in our students, gets them excited to bring forth their best.

YOU Are Your Special Needs Specialist

Special needs students require the same credits as above but with a longer time limit and lower rate of achievement expectation.  We set goals for our daughter, focus on her self organizing, self starting, self pacing for her academics.  Her electives are predominantly focused on life skills, character development, nutrition, and health.  Her math is not high school math, but it is math.  Her other books are high school level and she will complete many of her 9th grade courses this summer –taking a full 365 days to complete 180 days of work.

We expect her high school work to be completed in 5+ years at which point she will graduate with a SC High School Certificate or a SC High School Diploma with Exceptions.  Those exceptions being that she will most likely never take a formal SAT/ACT style test, or be eligible to enter college without beginning with remedial courses.  Since my God is far larger than our greatest visions/plans we will never put  a cap on what our daughter can do, but this day she will move forward in all areas of growth and we will walk with her on this road.

In hindsight we realize that a traditional school would have offered her many specialized approaches and therapies that may have moved her ahead in her abilities far quicker than we have.  It would also have taught her what she could not do.  By being homeschooled, correcting her speech, OT, PT, etc needs we moved slower in accomplishing the same goals, but she has no idea that she cannot do certain things.  We don’t believe that she cannot do anything if the desire is planted in her heart and it is from God.

Note- we did partake of the special services offered through the public schools but were quickly dissatisfied with their short sessions, even shorter shared sessions, immense paperwork, and taking more time to stop our day, travel to/from, and get back into a groove for sometimes only 15 minutes of therapy.  There were days that she received the full allotted time of 45 minutes and the less used therapies like OT were incredible, but the overbooked and overworked therapies like speech were ineffective.  So, we did the homeschool thing- became therapists, learned what she needed, how to provide for and meet those needs, and built it in as a part of our daily routine–all day long, every day and not just for a short time once or twice a week.  Her improvement was steady….and continues to be steady with some leaps and some rests along the way.