One of my favorite things about parents of special needs children is that we celebrate every little bit of progress our kiddos make. We enjoy even the tiniest bits of progress our children make because it sometimes takes them weeks, months, or years to learn to do things that neuro-typical children learn to do in a few weeks, days, or even hours. So when our special needs children finally learn a new skill or even master something such as standing in line at the grocery store without having a melt-down, it gives us a reason to celebrate!
It’s so much fun watching our children learn to roll over, crawl, walk, and talk. In fact, we usually take for granted that our children will learn those things and forget how awesome it is to witness the progress our children make from birth—when they can do almost nothing for themselves—until they become young adults—who are able to take care of themselves independently.
I remember how thrilled my husband and I were when, at age 4, Hannah finally learned to feed herself! (She was—and still is—very hypotonic, so it was very hard for her to learn to hold and scoop food with a spoon or spear food with a fork.) We were overjoyed when she learned to put on her own socks and shoes. We celebrated when she finally (just a few years ago) began to be interested in and enjoy opening her own gifts at Christmas or her birthday.
But none of those experiences were equal to the one we had just a few weeks ago.
Several weeks ago, my 20-year-old daughter, Hannah–who has severe autism and is totally non-verbal, finally received her new augmentative communication device. It took us months of waiting and paperwork (and lots of work on the part of her speech pathologist for whom we are so grateful!!) before it finally arrived, so we were thrilled when it was delivered to us!
We were also a bit nervous because the communication devices we’ve tried in the past turned out to be very complicated, and Hannah wasn’t willing to use them. In fact, she flatly refused to use them after a while. We began to think that perhaps she just didn’t have an interest in communicating with us and that maybe she was content to point to things she wanted or take us to the things she wanted us to get for her or help her do. We began to think that we’d never have the chance to celebrate Hannah’s ability to talk to us—through the use of her own voice or of a communication device.
But thankfully, we were wrong!
Hannah’s new device, we call it her “talker” to make it simple, is a lot like an iPad. It has a main screen from which she can choose a main topic. Then, once she chooses a main topic from that screen, it takes her to another screen with more options related to that topic. Once her speech pathologist and I got the device set up the way we thought it would be easiest for Hannah to use, we began showing her how to get to different menus depending on what she wanted to communicate to us at that moment.
When Hannah’s younger sister, Mary Grace (age 12), saw the new device, she wanted to check and see how it works. She also was curious to know how Hannah would react to it and how much success she would have using it. For that reason, she went to the main screen, showed it to Hannah, and said, “Hannah, I want you to tell me something with your new talker. If you could tell me just one thing, what would it be?”
Immediately, Hannah looked at the screen, searched her options, and reached out to touch the topic she had chosen. Then the three of us—Hannah, Mary Grace, and I—heard Hannah’s new “voice” say, “I love you!” Mary Grace and I then looked at Hannah to see a huge smile on her face and a look that showed how happy she was to have finally been able to tell her sister that she loves her.
Of course Mary Grace and I began to cry. For the first time in 20 years, Hannah was able to express in words her love for her sister! It was a moment that I’m sure none of the three of us will ever forget. And you can be sure we celebrated that moment!
You see, even though it can be frustrating and tiring caring for a child with special needs, there are moments, just like there are with any other child, that are worth celebrating. There are moments of joy in the middle of the difficult times. There are breakthroughs that allow us to hang in there a little while longer.
As difficult as things sometimes are, I’m very thankful for these good times. I’m thankful that God has blessed us with this new opportunity for Hannah to use her “voice” to explore a whole new world that has opened up to her if she’ll take advantage of it. I’m thankful for the chance to share with other parents of special needs children and hopefully encourage them along the way.
In spite of circumstances that sometimes seem too difficult to handle, God can and will give you reasons to celebrate along the way. Just as Hannah loves her sister, God loves you and your special needs child. So get ready to celebrate!
If you have a child with special needs, what achievements are you celebrating recently? Tell us so we can celebrate with you!