Learning Needs and Special Needs are GIFTS!

It has been one month since I returned from my vacation. Many wonderful memories fill my mind from those exciting eleven days, but there is one thought that continues to bounce back and forth in my brain. I was 2,000+ miles away from home. Alone.

The trip was everything I wanted, but even more, What I Needed. Each time that truth fluttered through my mind I felt like the Lord was saying, "I know you appreciate how far I have brought you and your children, daughter, but I want you to look back - and REMEMBER. Not just the big picture, but the details." And He was right. Just as He convicts me to remember the details of losing our son to maintain fresh empathy and compassion for other women grieving over their babies, I must do the same with the details of raising children with dyslexia and ADD/ADHD. Parents of kids with learning/special needs often feel isolated and rejected, because the truth is, like anything else, unless we live it, we don't understand it. And sadly, we often make judgments based on our ignorance.
Spurgeon said it well: We should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison. 

As a mother, I studied the prison of dyslexia and learning needs immediately after discovering our children were living in it. What I didn't know how to do at the time, however, was bridge the gap between knowledge - and understanding. I read and researched and attend conferences to gain the knowledge needed to help my children. And I found it. I can spout off the characteristics of dyslexia and ADD without effort. But, who cares? We can find information anywhere. What parents need, what the children need - is empathy.

When I am looking into the eyes of a woman who is drowning in the seemingly endless assault of the crashing waves of special needs, she doesn't want to hear the science, the statistics, or the scholastic pieces of why her kids struggle. She wants the personal. She wants to hear me say, "I understand." She wants to hear my story because as she listens to the very real truth about my daily life, the ugly, as well as the beautiful, light shines into the darkness of her prison cell and she sees, maybe for the first time, that she is not alone.

So, what is my story? What would I say to a mother who has just discovered her child is dyslexic? What would I say to the woman in tears because no one understands her hyperactive child and constantly judges her? What would I say to the father whose son hates school, cries over lessons, and has been pushed into depression because he cannot succeed like other students and feels like he is worthless? Exactly what other men and women told me. The truth.

My children ...
do not talk - they yell
do not walk - they run
do not play - they wrestle
do not look - they touch
do not use items - they destroy them
do not sit still - they rock, roll, and twist
do not discuss - they argue
do not play games - they compete
do not focus - they dream
do not ask - they obsess
do not lie still and sleep - they roll around, talk, play, sing, and have conversations with themselves

-My children often don't respond to commands because they are hyperfocused on their current activity and cannot hear me. And it feels like they are ignoring me.
-When my children do hear me, they don't listen (even when they asked a question) because their minds are distracted by their next thought, a cricket chirping, or the memory of the delicious brownie they had for dessert last night. And they appear rude.
-I cannot give my children a list of commands because, by the time they complete the first item, all the other items on the list have been forgotten. It seems like they are disobeying.
-My children cannot see messes or plan ahead. They do not think about mildew collecting on towels shoved in a closet after a shower or Lego creations being kicked apart because they were left in the middle of the hallway because they live in the moment, totally focused on "now." But they seem lazy.
-When I make a change - any change - without informing my children, it causes tremendous stress and often, a meltdown that makes heads turn. And they appear inflexible.
-It takes my children three times longer than their peers to complete an assignment and almost always results in frustration and fatigue. While they did their best, they are labeled lazy and unmotivated because the scores do not reflect the effort.

At this point, I am met with enlarged eyes, head nods, and outcries of, "Yes! Exactly!"
(The same way I responded when others graciously pulled back the curtain on their family and home lives when I had just walked into the world of learning needs, desperately craving someone who understood my completely overwhelmed heart and mind.) It is a wonderful moment because it means she feels connected, no longer alone. It also means it is time to offer HOPE.

While all of the things listed above can be incredibly frustrating for the parent, they are even more frustrating for the child. And usually, not malicious. Most children do not wake up planning to break something, defy authority, or annoy people with their inability to read social cues. They just DO. Their minds work differently. Not wrong. Just different. And these differences are a GIFT! Because these kids cannot think/do/learn/behave like everyone else, they must find new ways to think/do/learn/behave. And inventors, scientists, architects, and entrepreneurs are born!
The destroyer may become an engineer.
The arguer may become a lawyer.
The dreamer may become an author.
The obsessive may become a modern-day Amy Carmichael who is fired up by injustice and completely undaunted when told, "You can't do that," while pushing her way into brothels to rescue children.

As parents, our job is to teach our children how to exist in a world that will not take time to understand their prison, or care. They must learn to manage their impulses, both verbal and physical. They must learn to see others, not just themselves, for life is not about them. We must teach them to desire and pursue character traits that are attractive, not repellants. We must teach them compassion and grace for others since they themselves require much of both. And without a doubt, we must help them discover their natural gifts and strengths so they can channel all of their energy and effort into things that will bring them success. Not only for themselves -but for the glory of God.

I could fill many more pages with examples of difficult days, out-of-control moments (both mine and theirs), tear-filled struggles, hard conversations, mistakes, and moments of complete brokenness. And I probably should fill those pages, because behind every example is an amazing, compassionate, grace-filled, sovereign God who chose this for our children, for me and Dennis, and for our family. He could have designed their minds and bodies and strengths a hundred other ways, but He made them just as they are, with purpose. For His glory, and their good. And I am thankful.

The road of dyslexia and ADD/ADHD has been a long one for our family. Learning needs and special 
needs are not isolated to a classroom or a school - but to LIFE. The Lord has been faithful to remind us how far we have come, but there is still more road to travel, and one day, our children will no longer be walking behind us, following where we lead. They will be grown adults, personally and wholly accountable for their thoughts, choices, and actions. Dennis and I will be seen cheering and encouraging them as we run on the sidelines until we breathe our final breath, but no matter how often our children look to us for help, we will point them to the One who created them, loves them, and died for them, and cry, "Follow HIM!" And then, passionately pray that our children will recognize the sovereign hand of God in their lives and say on their own accord, "Thank You, Lord! I praise You for I AM fearfully and wonderfully made. Just as I am."