Everyone gifted with a special-needs child wonders why—at least once.
When we discovered I was pregnant, my husband and I were ecstatic! I quit my job, and we prepared for our little one’s arrival. Name books were dragged out and choices discussed. The small spare room in our home on an Air Force Base was decorated as much as regulations allowed, and we settled down to wait. Her delivery wasn’t easy, but our baby girl arrived right on time.
It was one of the happiest days of our lives.
We settled into a joyful routine of meeting milestones and making discoveries. We savored each and every one: the first time she lifted her head, smiled, or rolled over. We bragged about her first steps and her first words. Everything appeared to be fine, even after an unexplained fever landed her in the hospital for two days.
It wasn’t until she was almost two, and I was expecting our second child, that the first symptoms appeared. Night terrors would wake her, screaming and crying. At first we thought she was unsettled because a new sibling would be arriving soon, and because her father would be going on a remote assignment without us for a year. But the terrors didn’t stop when her sister was born, or when we joined my husband six months into his tour. By the time she started preschool, the terrors had faded, but her teacher had noticed behaviors and suggested testing.
The Air Force sent us back to the States with a frustratingly vague provisional diagnosis of non-categorical. It took another 2 ½ years of testing before an American doctor stationed in England with us made the primary diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. I was floored. I’d trained in special education and had never heard of it. What was it and why did my child have it? More importantly, how could we help her?
We learned that Asperger’s syndrome is a higher functioning, Autistic Spectrum disorder and that many adults move on to live independent lives. That was not to be the case with our daughter. Despite her intelligence, she has not moved on and out. We love having her with us, but wanted the decision to stay to be hers, not her disability’s.
Growing up has been a challenge for both girls. As they hit adolescence and young adulthood, the younger passed the older up. She learned to drive, had boyfriends, went to college and holds a job. Our first born looks at us and wants to know, “Why?”
We don’t have an answer.
After a particularly difficult day, I’d ask God the same question. Why? Why is this child of ours the way she is? Why does she have to suffer the way she does? Why did You give her to us?
Sometimes I feel like no one hears. Other times God seems to answer, through a magazine article, or another person, or something completely unexpected. He reminds me that this child is His very special child, and He has chosen to give her to us as a very special gift.
That scares me. What if we mess up?
If I’m calm, and if I’m really listening, I can almost hear God laugh. After all, if He sent this child to our family, He must have had a reason. Yes, we have to love and care for her, protect and teach her, so that she will eventually be happy with Him forever. But what if there’s another reason?
I believe God sends us the people we need to help us find our way to Him. They help us define our shortcomings and our faults, and bring out our strengths. Our special daughter does this each and every day. The buttons she pushes and my reactions show me what areas in my life need work, and if I’m lucky, where I’ve improved. Her dependence on me, her father, and her sister reminds me of my dependence on God for all things. The courage she shows in the face of her challenges and her willingness to do what she can to improve gives me something to emulate. And I’m thankful.
Every special-needs child is a unique gift from God. We have the responsibility and the privilege of teaching and guiding them, but they are returning the favor, helping us to be better than we might otherwise be. We are all special children in His eyes. So when I’ve had a hard day and am tempted to ask myself “Why?” I try to remember that God has a reason for everything—even if I don’t know or understand what it is.
Prayer for a Handicapped Child
My God, You have seen fit in the depths of Your Providence that my child should labor under a difficulty which others do not have. Perhaps You will not wish to remove the handicap, for I know that it may well be intended according to Your plans to effect a work of greater sanctification. Should You see fit to remove the trouble though, may the favor be for the greater sanctification of my child and myself. But if You know it is best to leave us with this cross, then grant us grace, that we may receive Your adorable will with patience and may know it as it is—not something harsh, but rather the merciful stroke of Your love, which will ultimately bring us greater blessings and happiness with You which shall never end. Amen.
Header Image CC Lance Neilson