I always dreamed of being a mom; as matter of fact I can not remember a day when this wasn’t so. So when we adopted our son, Jonathan, my dreams of being a mom came true! From the day we picked him up from the foster parents’ house to bring him home, our lives were forever changed, and we were launched into a journey that we could never have foreseen or dreamed up!
By the time we started attending church in 1995, Jonathan had already been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). He was 10 years old, and by the time he turned 11 he was also diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. We had sought medical and behavioral advise from medical doctors, psychiatrists and therapists. Like many parents who are rearing children with behavioral disorders, our lives were filled with a lot of stress and challenges…well, really a lot of problems. Some problems were typical challenges that most families face; however we had additional challenges that were severe and ongoing. How were we going to pay for the therapist that the insurance did not cover? Who was going to stay home when he was suspended from school again (in preschool we were asked to leave the school due to his behavior)? What are the options for behavior management and medications? How was his behavior going to affect his relationship with his younger brother? How were the other kids going to accept him, especially after Jonathan started displaying symptoms of Tourette Syndrome? What were we going to do when he had another melt down? When will this end?
Jonathan seemed to do okay at first in church and at Sunday school. Often times I would pick him up and be told, again that he did not behave well in class (same story different place). As the years rolled by he was not accepted by his peers or the adult leaders. He was the square peg trying (well sort of) to fit into a round hole. The middle and high school leaders at this time choose to ignore him and my pleas for help, to “hope” it would just go away so they would not have to deal with the problem. Jonathan’s problems just continued to grow and spiral out of control.
During this time, I was blessed to be in a weekly women’s Bible study group from our church. These ladies were a gift from God! They prayed over me, prayed for our family and problems. While they did not have the answers we were seeking, they sat and listened, they cried with me and when there was a break through they rejoiced with me! I do not know how I would have made it without these ladies’ prayers, acts of love and their availability to listen, just to listen. I, also needed to be accepted and loved in spite of my son having a lot of problems.
It would be easy to blame someone for not trying harder in the middle and high school years, however that is not the reason I share a glimpse of my story. Often when we see a child with a special need we address their needs for Sunday school, Awana or any other events that they participate in the Children’s ministry. There are so many more needs that may need to be addressed for a family with a behavioral or developmental special need/s.
I have learned that when I work with a family who has a child/children with special needs, I really need to find out if there are any other needs in the family that need to be addressed. Some of those needs are:
- Do any of the siblings need extra attention and care? Play dates with a parent without the sibling with special needs? Siblings sometimes do not receive the same attention as the child with special needs. Sometime leaving them feeling resentment and anger towards their sibling and/or parents.
- Respite for the family. Babysitters are hard to come by that are able to watch children with difficult behaviors.
- Financial needs. Food pantry, clothing, resources for financial aid, gift cards for something “fun”, gas, etc…
- Adult leaders that can mentor or aid a child as they go through middle and high school. Difficult for most teens but especially challenging with extra behavioral or developmental needs.
- Church therapist, support group or someone who can just care for the adults, to listen, to do the laundry, to make dinner, or whatever is needed at that moment.
- Emergency contact within the church leaders and lay leaders. This is so important! When we needed extra help we had no one who could come right away to help us.
- Tell the parents something positive about the child with special needs! We hear the negatives ALL THE TIME, please tell us something good about him!
- Remember YOU make the difference! You may be the only positive influence outside of the worn out parents so mail a card saying
how much you like their sense of humor, their creativity, even their energy!
- Lastly pray for them!