It’s not obvious to the rest of the world what’s really going on with my son. This is what it’s like when your child has hidden special needs.
I could feel it.
The other parents staring. Their glances back and forth, between my sweet son, me and then each other.
My youngest just started gymnastics. He really wanted to do it, and I really wanted to get him into occupational therapy. Like his brother, as hormones have started to change him into a man, they have also brought on an increased sensory sensitivity that is negatively affecting him every day.
The sand hurts, when it used to be his favorite.
The sound of the Yahtzee dice being thrown causes him to cover his ears.
He screams at me in frustration when he can’t get the socks on right, or the chicken doesn’t feel right in his mouth.
It feels like groundhog day. My husband and I look at each other and knowingly nod. “Here we go again.”
I am deeply ashamed to say it, but I really enjoyed having a child that required less of me in public. Up until a few months ago, his speech delay and processing speed were noticeable, but never something that required me doing anything other than translating sometimes. “No, he said he wants rice, not lice.”
It’s different now.
For him and for me.
He is anxious, all the time, especially when we are out in public.
He wants so badly to fit in. He is social and loves playing with others. But he struggles with how to do it, with limbs that seem to be going a mile a minute, and speech that is regressing.
We decided to start gymnastics because we could get him in immediately – waiting lists for therapists, that work well with ten-year old boys, are a mile long. And it has been wonderful.
He loves it.
His body syncs up every lesson. He adores his coach. He sleeps well the night after.
It really has been a great option for him.
And, every single time I am sitting in the parent area at the gym, I am aware of it.
I am that mom.
The mom with the son who is struggling in social settings.
The mom with the son who is making unusual movements in an effort to calm his anxiety.
The mom with the son who struggles to get people to understand him when he says his own name.
The mom that has a separate conversation with the coach, every session.
The mom that feels the stares, and feels left out.
The mom of a child with hidden special needs. It’s obvious something is going on, but it’s much more convenient for those around me to assume it’s my parenting.
Here is the thing – I am not sure I care anymore.
It used to get to me. In the early years of navigating our differences, I was so sad.
The sting of judgement and rejection have always been tough to deal with. Of course they have. But I know now, that my experience is never tougher than my son’s.
Yes, I am ‘that’ mom.
I am also the mom with two boys, who are learning how to fight for what they need.
I am the mom who sees bravery every single day, in her own home, as her child simply gets out of bed and smiles, ready to take on the day. I am the mom who gets to watch her naturally active son, learn to tumble and flip, grinning from ear to ear when he accomplishes his goal.
I am the mom who God chose to be these two boys’ mom.
And that fact alone makes me so very grateful to say,
I am content to be that mom.
When Your Child Has Hidden Special Needs
Yes, I am that mom, and what I want you to know is this.
The hardest part for me is not the stares or the judgement – it’s the lack of support and care.
When your child’s needs are not as obvious, there is an assumption that they need less help, if at all.
I am asked (accused?) often of being too soft on my boys, on providing accommodations, or even medications that they don’t really need.
I am asked this by those who have not known us for very long, or are not at all involved in our day to day.
They don’t know what it’s taken for us to get here, how hard my boys have worked for us to even have this conversation.
Hidden needs are still needs.
The more we acknowledge and accommodate them, the better my boys are at navigating the world around them.
For more information and support:
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.