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By Robyn Ozelis, M.A., LPC, Austism Specialist                                                                 

In my opinion, people with special needs should take pride in what they accomplish, even more than those without special needs do. They face implicit and societal challenges that can create obstacles to their success, and that make their successes all the sweeter with each achievement.

People who are neuro-atypical, or have physical challenges, have strengths that neurotypical people do not. Some that are implicit in their makeup, and some that they learn as they deal with their challenges and interact with their environments. 

I have a daughter with Down syndrome and autism. She was, and is shy and socially awkward, but perhaps due to all of the special help and attention that she has received at home and school, she has become very affectionate and will now greet strangers. My daughter is also so intuitive that she can often predict the weather with more accuracy than the weather forecasters. She also seems to have a special understanding about the thoughts and emotions of others. Most people who parent a child with a special need will report that their child also has some special skills or ways of viewing things.

Many people know that people with Down syndrome are represented by a smiley face for their happiness which most seem to innately have. Children with autism, on the other hand, are represented by the symbol of a puzzle piece, since many have extremely high perceptual and math skills. People with Williams syndrome are often highly talented in music and are usually conversational. People with physical challenges can surprise us with their ability to still live fulfilling and often independent lives.

Any parent of a special needs child knows what a thrill it is when their child does something that they have been working with them on for months. The first step is still the first step, the first word is still the first word, school achievements are still school achievements, and if your child can never do something that you had hoped for, then you should focus on what she can do, even if very limited.

Some people with special needs like autism, can be highly intelligent to the level of genius. In these cases, it is sometimes difficult for both the parents and the individuals themselves to understand that there are still many instances where the elements of a task or goal will prove very challenging and often frustrating to them. Social understanding and communication may not be areas that come easily for them, so growth in these areas should be especially celebrated.

We thankfully live in a world where understanding and acceptance of others who are atypical is increasing, but we have a long way to go!  As a parent of a child with special needs, I feel very grateful for so many people with beautiful souls, who have helped my daughter find her way and showered her with patience and love. Most of us can attest to this. Unfortunately, we can also often attest to our children being the subject of bullying or other forms of victimization. Safeguards must be put in place and children must learn strong boundaries and ways of protecting themselves. 

There are so many other types of special needs that I have not covered in this article, and some of them are very rare. This can be discouraging and challenging, since there will not be as much information on the disability. These individuals will also impress and astound us with the courage they portray with the challenges they face and master. Their parents will also impress us with their steadfastness in looking for answers to the questions they face about the disorder.

All people have something to teach us, and people with special needs enrich us and help us grow. Their courage is to be admired, as well as the courage of their parents!  All a person has to do is conduct a google search, and you will find very skilled and talented people with special needs of every type, even very famous people. People with special needs teach us new ways of looking at things, love, kindness and patience. Every person has value and something that only they can give to the world.

I am a therapist at Midwest Center for Hope and Healing who works with individuals, groups, and families, to include individuals with special needs, and families with special needs children. I also work with young adults who have discovered that they have special needs or diagnoses like autism, that they never knew they had. I would love to partner with you and your family to help you gain additional strength, insight, strategies and understanding to help you along your way.

I will soon be offering a support group for parents of children with special needs. Together we grow stronger, and parents can learn from other parents as well as from therapeutic insights.