Lessons Your Special Needs Tween Can Teach You

Special Needs Kids Can Teach Us A Lot

Being a parent teaches you many things. One thing I’ve learned in recent weeks is that you really need a new perspective when it comes to the word “achieve.”

trophyGrowing up, I was the ultimate overachiever — excelling in the classroom and playing two sports. When I got to the University of Wisconsin, I graduated a semester early with honors and distinction and two majors. I also had a job lined up — not an easy feat in journalism. Once out of college, I excelled at work, earning multiple promotions and becoming business editor by age 30. I was the youngest editor in the room. My editor told me I destined for a great career. Not long afterwards, we began to suspect something was not right with our then 2-year-old son. He wasn’t talking much and his daycare teachers said he was socially immature. Since he had a sister 15 months younger, we thought it was that. But things got worse and soon the explanation of “being a boy” or having a younger sister didn’t cut it. I didn’t sleep much, was over stressed and made a mistake that cost me my job. Countless doctors and tests later, we got an official diagnosis: high functioning autism and an anxiety disorder.

While my daughter has followed in my overachieving footsteps, Michael is clearly on his own path. He recently attended a week-long Boy Scout camp, but returned home without earning a single merit badge or advancement. I sighed heavily as he gave me back the unsigned badge cards and asked “what did you do all week?” “I had fun,” he said. I stopped in my tracks and felt terrible for that big sigh. Michael was again teaching me — achievement doesn’t mean you need to be first in the class or a starter. He achieved plenty during his week away — he was away from home for the first time by himself and managed well. He only lost one thing — a $4 rain poncho. He also survived a week without video games — another major achievement.

Michael also had a leading role in last year’s school Christmas program. He memorized and clearly spoke a bunch of lines and did an excellent job in front of hundreds of people. Again, he achieved something I never thought possible. And despite his disabilities — he also has dysgraphia — he performs grade level work in a regular classroom with minor adjustments.

So besides giving me endless lessons in patience, he’s know taught me about the true meaning of achievement – doing your best and having a good time doing it. I’m not sure what the future holds — if he’ll go to college, get a job and live independently — but I know he’ll keep teaching me new things

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MaryBeth Matzek

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