Special Needs Kids : Looking Beyond The Deficits

Special Needs, how can this word be defined? On one hand, it is perceived as deficiencies. The focus is on what the child cannot do. This broad term can be indicative of emotional, physical, cognitive and sensory issues. These challenges may present themselves individually. Individuals can present with co-morbid (more than one) challenges and very frequently do.

When my son was a child, I tended to focus on his special challenges to the extent that I was not noting the child who he truly was. He was a child just like any neurotypical child with gifts and talents. I needed to look deep enough to see them. My constant focus on his deficits created a blind eye to his talents. Talents that pleaded to be honed by educators and I alike. Talents that needed to be nurtured as much as accommodations were needed in order for him to learn and thrive.

Accommodations – behavioral, in school and society at large are of the utmost importance. However, noting and honing a child’s skills that they do possess is important as well. It is quite a balancing act to embrace a special needs child’s implicit skills yet create necessary  accommodations simultaneously.

In noting a child’s skills, deficits may be modified through use of (compensatory strategies) their strong areas to compensate for their challenges. For instance, a child who processes information through auditory modality versus visually could be provided with a tape versus a book. A child who has motor skill challenges can be can respond to test questions verbally, versus writing the answers manually. If a child has issues focusing because they are in constant motion, provide them with a stretchy cord that they can manipulate when attempting to sit still.

My point in a nutshell is to remember that a special needs diagnosis should not make us focus on what the child cannot do. I perceive a special needs diagnosis as a child in need of learning and functioning in a different manner, not a child who cannot learn or function. If a blind child is taught braille they are capable of reading. If a child is deaf, they can learn sign language or lip-reading.

If a child lacks the capability to express themselves verbally, they can be provided with a computer program which will provide them a voice. As one can see, their challenges can be overcome with the right accommodations. Children will learn in their own way, at their own pace, at their own personal comfort level and time frame, not parameters that we as a society set for them. Individuals with special needs are individuals, just like everyone else. We need to respect that. Our children must be given license to follow life’s path that works for them, not one that is determined by parents, professionals and society.
In order to note the strength’s in special needs individuals, it is important to pack away societal heuristics (beliefs that individuals develop through the media, daily interactions etc.) Of what normal is. These perceptions are extremely skewed. These personal perceptions and belief systems can thwart our ability to see the talents and possibility in an individual with challenges.

My comments are based on both my experience as a professional educator and bringing ups sons with an array of medical and developmental challenges such as Asperger’s Syndrome, A.D.D. Processing challenges, mapping issues, motor skill challenges and more.

What have I learned along the path from my sons diagnoses to adulthood? I have learned to not compare my children to neurotypical Johnny who lives down the street, the child who learned to tie their shoes with ease and much younger then my child with motor skill challenges. Learn he did, just later than most. Through these experiences, I let go of my sense of perfectionism and vision of who my children should be. I realized that who they were destined to become was their path in life not mine.

By learning to model my own challenges I learned to teach my kids how to accept theirs. How would they accept and be comfortable in their own skin if I did not do so? After all, when they struggled with challenges, I needed to teach them how to fall on their metaphorical face and get back up through example. Learning to display my own faults with acceptance helped them accept theirs.

After my early period of mourning the child we did not have. Or, shall I say, the child I conjured up in my mind while carrying the baby in utero who was not to be. I learned to embrace and accept the wonderful children that I was blessed with. They have taught me more than I taught them. I have learned acceptance of all individuals looking beyond perceived flaws.

I have learned perseverance, patience, tolerance and an appreciation of the world that I would not possess without having the experience of parenting special needs kids. When milestones were met, I reveled in the new-found skills learned because I never expected them to be acquired. I am extremely adaptable and surprisingly appreciative of the (smaller) things in life from expecting the unexpected. These experiences carry out into my interactions with society at large.

My children created a sense of love in me through conquering challenges that has caused me to receive and give unconditional acceptance. I have realized that my children are different from the dreams I conjured up in the hallows of my mind. I have learned that they are not meant to become who I wish them to become. Thus, living my dreams vicariously through them. They are individuals and have their path. I have mine which is separate from my children’s.

Remember that we all have special needs. There is not an individual on this planet who is infallible, has no challenges or never makes mistakes. The biggest gift we can give our children is to accept them for who they are. Coach them to be as successful as possible in life, yet be cognizant of their special challenges.

Last but not least, the most important thing you can do is love them. When all is said and done, isn’t our child’s happiness the most important component? You will struggle when your special needs child struggles but you will also share in the joy of their accomplishments as well. Particularly the accomplishments your child was never expected to excel at. And excel they will. Not by your standards, educators standards or society at large but by theirs and theirs alone.

They say that God gives special needs children to special parents. I do not believe that for a minute. I believe fate gave me my children for a reason. I was not the special one. My kids MADE me special. They were sent here because I had a thing or two to learn and boy have they TAUGHT me. Thanks to my sons for being my greatest teachers, you have struggled with challenges and I have had the honor of watching you grow into admirable young men despite the odds. Your strength and ability to defy the odds is admirable. My sons, you are my heroes.

Special needs parents, never give up hope. Expect the unexpected and you may be surprised how far your child will develop, thrive and defeat the odds. BELIEVE ALWAYS………………

I am a published author and focus on books pertaining to autism and Aspergers Syndrome. I have had special needs articles published in several magazines. I have been interviewed several times in print, on pod casts, and internet T.V. regarding the autism spectrum. I have presented autism workshops to staff, management teams, and parent groups. I offer tips on curriculum development and behavior modification within the classroom and through in-services. I am certified by the Department of Early Childhood Education as a lead preschool teacher, an infant and toddler teacher, and site coordinator qualified to manage school age programs. I have recently ventured into public speaking engagements to educate both parents and educators on autism and Aspergers Syndrome
I want my experiences and challenges to be used productively as a learning tool for other parents and for educators as well. When my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s a decade ago it was a foreign word among many parents and professionals alike. I fought for help never giving up. Through my books I wish to help parents feel like they do not walk in the dark, that they are not alone, empower them and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I also want to educate society at large on the topic of the autism spectrum. I believe all parties involved need to work as a collaborative team in order to insure a special needs child’s success.If you like my articles, aside from being the parent of an adult with Aspergers Syndrome/ A.D.D and an educational professional, I am also a published author of many special needs and autism related books written to inspire and support parents, families, educators and society at large as well. Please stop by and check out my books on Amazon.com at Mari Nosal : Please stop by my site at Amazon Books and check out my published books on autism aspergers special needs and more http://tinyurl.com/kdspqy9

Mari Nosal M.Ed.


3 thoughts on “Special Needs Kids : Looking Beyond The Deficits”

  1. Dear Mari Nosal

    You said ALL. I have a 9 years old with ASD, with a minimum verbal. He came from long way as he is maturing , I see improvement and continuously celebrate for every little improvement he demonstrates in his overall development. My son taught me a lot. I agree with you.
    Thank you


  2. I LOVE this article! My own 18 year old son has Aspergers, was not properly diagnosed in the school system until HIGH school. Now that he has graduated, I see the many areas in which he struggles – separate from academic. But he is a whole young adult. He has capabilities, interests, and dreams like any 18 year old. I teach 3-5 year old children with special needs. The one who comes to mind after reading Mari’s story is my student with the inability to process proteins. The illness leaves her with cognitive deficiencies; she cannot identify any letters (other than “A” and no numbers past 3. What she is GREAT at: Retelling stories, predicting outcomes, and recalling ELA information previously taught. I have a Kinder student with Traumatic Brain Injury who is an extremely problematic behavior. His strengths include his vocabulary, honesty, and letter sounds. These children are not any different in their needs and wants. No matter how difficult it is to help them find their way, it is our sacred responsibility.

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