Target. Need I say more? I think it may be the only reason I’ve survived these years of staying home with littles. But one particular day of perusing the aisles stands out in my mind. I have no idea why I remember the details from that day so clearly but I remember walking down the “bathroom stuff” aisle. I don’t know its real name, just that it has all that bathroom-ey stuff. I remember my toddler, and that teal jacket. I remember the ear piercing screams. I remember the stares. And how I just kept right on shopping, as though I couldn’t even hear those ear piercing screams. I really don’t know why this particular day stands out, because it wasn’t any different than any other day at Target, or any other day anywhere else. Those same ear piercing screams, day in and day, no matter where my sweet toddler had to be still.
I know that may sound like an exaggeration. Anyone who’s ever had a toddler sometimes feels like the screaming never stops. This wasn’t that. I’m talking constant movement. Being pinned down (aka: car seat, shopping cart, stroller) equaled rocking, head shaking flailing, kicking, and so much screaming. Not the kind where you can ditch the cart and come back when the screaming has subsided. Because as long as there was a cart the screaming never subsided. (Just ask my faithful bestie who wasthe aisles along side me.)
I spent a lot of time feeling guilty. Feeling inadequate. Feeling really, really worried. Five years later we got a diagnosis. It took FIVE years to finally get an answer. To get some affirmation. To start the journey of getting real help. Secret special needs. They aren’t a secret to the people who are wrestling with them but they often feel like a secret we are supposed to keep. They are also called hidden disabilities, in other words, a disability you can’t see by looking at a person. Let me be crystal clear, I am in no way saying hidden disabilities are harder than non-hidden ones, but they are often overlooked, completely missed, and cause for painful, harsh judgement. For some reason, we have it in OUR heads that if we can’t see the disability with our eye balls, it must be in THEIR head. And actually it is! Guess what? Our brains are part of our body, and just like all the parts of our body sometimes it can function differently than the “norm.” Just like someone can be born with an arm or a leg that doesn’t function like everyone else’s…it happens to brains too. And brains control EVERYTHING; emotions, behavior, senses, the list goes on, and on. If you don’t believe me, do some research on brain scans of people with disabilities such as ADHD and Autism (etc. tim).
When you have a child (or are a person) who has a secret special need, I can tell you that what you experience the most is judgement. Judgement leads to isolation which leads to loneliness (like extreme loneliness) which leads to depression. If you were to judge my parenting based on that precious screaming toddler you’d be pretty sure I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. I have another child, who, if you were to judge me on their behavior I’d have a whole lot of gold stars. (I know this because people who interact with this child give me LOTS of compliments on my parenting.) Guess which kid has taken blood, sweat, tears, and more to parent…guess which one hasn’t. Are you getting my drift? All my hard core parenting skills have gone to that screaming toddler. The one I get all the compliments for; didn’t have to work for that.
My experience with my own kids and their secret special needs (I have two with secret special needs and 2 without) has taught me a few things:
- Don’t judge, offer kindness. Even I didn’t know that I was dealing with kiddos who had some special needs. I was trying to figure out what to do, with a whole lot of noise coming in from a whole lot of places. Sometimes I see a mama with a toddler or young child and she’s struggling. It’s so easy to think I have some answers for her but really, I’m just getting a very small glimpse and I have no idea whats really going on. She might not even know. She needs kindness. She needs encouragement to keep doing the hard work of figuring out what her child needs. That’s all.
- Secret special needs are EVERYWHERE. The clerk at the store who drives you nuts cause she never smiles. The homeless guy who gets too close when he asks you for money. That screaming toddler in the grocery store. Maybe your grandbabies, maybe your brother. Hidden disabilities are exactly that; they are hiding. Hiding from you, from parents, and often from the people who have them. My perspective has been so broadened by my children. It has changed every interaction I have with everyone I meet. My first thought is no longer judgement but that maybe there is more to the story that I can’t see on the surface. That knowledge quiets the judgmental voice in my head and slows my reaction.
- Survival of the fittest doesn’t have to be the way we chose to live. The fittest may be able to survive at the expense of those “less fit” but is that really who we want to be? We can choose to be inconvenienced once in awhile in order to offer kindness, compassion, and grace to those “less fit.” We can choose to be people who’s first instinct is to help and support, not judge and alienate. The truth is no one gets through life without help, even though we’d like to think we can do it on our own. Can you imagine a world where we all gave each other the benefit of the doubt? The benefit of grace? I can. And its beautiful.