Special Needs Motherhood Is Messy

My son and I watch the show, Dirty Jobs, every night as a way to wind down before bedtime.

He loves it. I love it. It works for us.

Last night, he looked at me in the middle of the show and said, “You don’t get paid, so Mike Rowe couldn’t come here. But you have a really dirty job.”

I smiled and agreed.

I do.

Special needs motherhood is messy.

When I say messy, I mean the figurative to be sure.

The worry and fear – what if he never learns to read, what if the doctor can’t help him, what if he is bullied by the other children – it’s messy. I share this part of special needs motherhood all the time.

Today however, I want to share the literal mess.

(Warning: If you have any sensitivities to bodily fluids and functions, you should stop reading now and instead read my Dear Mom at Target post. It’s a lot cleaner.)

Special Needs Motherhood Is Messy

On a daily and sometimes hourly basis, I find myself dealing with the following:


My youngest son has some damage to his vagus nerve. As such, he frequently refluxes and/or full-on vomits at least once a day (think newborn baby spit up but with an 11 year old’s diet). We carry a bowl with us in the car. We keep a bowl in the bathroom, next to his bed and on the couch at all times. I clean these bowls, often several times a day.

Bathroom Issues

Oh my goodness, no one talks about the digestive issues of children on the spectrum and with anxiety disorder, but please know, they are plenty. We run the gamut of constipation to explosive diarrhea every single day between my two sons. Add to that my youngest son’s OCD in wiping and I am up to my neck in “it,” all the time.

More Vomit

Although we have bowls all over the house, there are times when my son is unable to predict when he will reflux. I find myself cleaning up the couch, the carpet, the bathroom floor and the car more than my gag reflex can really handle.

Urine in random places

This one is tough to talk about, but is a real part of our life. Some medicines cause increased urinary frequency and incontinence. As such, my son, despite being 11-years-old, does have accidents from time to time.

Service Dog Poo

My son’s service dog, Sammy, is awesome. He is worth every single drawback to having a big dog and more. Having said that, I find myself also cleaning up some very large poops these days.

Service Dog Hair

I can’t even tell you how all over it is. It is a constant losing battle.

Body Odor

I am a mother of boys. Boys with sensory issues related to bathing. But mostly just pre-teen and teenage boys. I am not sure I need to say more.

Still More Vomit

I just needed to give it one more mention.

(Please know, because I do not disclose my boys’ identities, they are aware of and have given permission for me to be honest about this kind-of stuff. They have veto power over what I share and what I do not share.)

Special Needs Motherhood

It’s a dirty job. Someone’s gotta do it and that someone is me. 

Do I love all the clean-up? Nope.

Am I so freaking grateful that I can manage my children’s care at home, with minimal help and intervention.? You bet.

I’ve learned it’s a lot worse to have a nurse clean up these same messes because my son has been hospitalized. I’ve learned that there are families whose needs are so great, they require round the clock, in-home care.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that my boys really do appreciate and value this service I provide. They are comfortable with me. They are not embarrassed with me, even when it could be really embarrassing. They know they can count on me to help them move on with their day, no matter what the mess.

It’s a dirty job, yes.

I take satisfaction in knowing I am the absolute best candidate for it.

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  1. The invisible work so few share. Thank you.

  2. You are amazing! Your post have inspired me to deal with the messy in my own life.

    1. Thank you, Andria. It’s good to know we are not alone – especially in the mess!

  3. I have been following you for the past year and just finished your book on special education at home. This past week I have started to homeschool my five year old son who has aspergers and multiple food allergies. Thanks for all your encouragement and insights!

    1. Wow! You made it through your first week homeschooling! Great job, Momma. I hope you get a little time to rest and recoup this weekend. 🙂
      I’m so glad you are here.

  4. Susann Williams says:

    Shawna, my son is five and yes, I am echo the sentiments that it is messy! I am also–like you–so thankful I’m able to manage his needs. Thank you so much for writing this. I feel like you looked in my heart and extracted all of my concerns. I’m in tears now because I know I’m not alone.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Susann. Please know, you are not alone. So not alone.

  5. RYAN FLUHARTY says:


  6. Thank you for posting and reminding me that I am able to bless my kid because there is not shame or embarrassment over something they have little control over. I needed this today!

    1. You are so very welcome. 🙂

  7. Sooo timely. I am struggling to teach my son to clean up some of his own messes/accidents as we are trying so hard to move gently towards independence as he ages but it seems so hard with all the smell/touch sensory issues that make cleaning up messes really distressing, plus not wanting to shame or embarrass him. Would be grateful for any experiences you or anyone could share about this.

    1. All I can say is yes. I clean up almost everything because of the sensory issues. It’s just too much right now. As they get older, I only hope it gets a little bit easier for them (sensory issues do relax over time and my boys are learning more and more how to cope).

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