A Taste of the “Typical”: Raising Children with Special NeedsBy Kelly Hafer
By Kelly Hafer
We did something tonight that I never expected my family to do again. Something so special – and yet so heartbreakingly “typical” – that my face hurts from smiling so hard. And that funny, prickly feeling in the back of my throat speaks to my Herculean efforts to choke back my tears.
Tonight my youngest son had a Christmas Program at his school. Pretty typical, right? Probably millions of elementary school children throughout the country do the same every December. Only we never thought we’d be here. In our experience, unfortunately, inclusion of special needs children into special events like this tend to be more “theoretical” than “actual.” In fact, after three years of public school experience with my oldest autistic child, we had, to date, not seen a single application of inclusion.
So, tonight was a taste of “typical.” In order for this to work, our schedule had to change. For those of us deep in the Special Needs trenches, we know that in and of itself is a tall order. In order to make it back to the school on time, we needed to eat dinner an hour early, get dressed in nicer clothes, and take an trip back to the school. Now factor in the beyond capacity crowd – 700 children and family members crammed into a multi-purpose room. It was hot, loud and you couldn’t move an inch without apologizing for stepping on your neighbor.
My son’s class was the first one up, thank God. He and his classmates performed two songs, and exited the stage. This process took thirty minutes. It may have been some of the brightest minutes of my life. This child of mine, this incredibly anxious and insecure little man, sat on stage – a very jam-packed stage, in sensory hell, and enjoyed himself. He sang. He did the hand motions. He did it!
He was able to do it because he was given the support and opportunity to try. He has had five years of working with therapists, counselors, physicians, and, most importantly, caring teachers who have wanted the very best for him. He has had to work much harder than the average child for the things that come naturally to most. He has had challenges, but has risen to overcome.
I am proud. I am in awe. And, now that he’s in bed peacefully sleeping, I am going to grab a Kleenex and have a good cry.
Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to four children: a 17-year-old neurotypical (if you can say that about a teenager!) daughter, 6- and 5-year-old boys on the spectrum; and, since life was getting a touch boring, another beautiful baby girl. Kelly is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Military Special Needs Network. MSNN is a peer-to-peer support organization founded to respond to the needs of all branches of the military and of our Exceptional Family Members. We strive to provide family and emotional support and lasting friendships – See more at: http://