My kids’ unique abilities (and challenges) slip by unnoticed most of the time. Their special needs are invisible, but that makes them no less serious — or real. And it makes me no less determined to celebrate their victories and share their gifts with the world.
Do you remember those perfect-for-sneaking-class-notes pens that allowed you to write words that remained undetectable until you shined a black light on them in the dark? Invisible ink. That is how it feels for my kids to live with “invisible” special needs that show no obvious deficits; no one believes they are there, and few take the time to shine a light on them.
The invisible deficits like mental illness, childhood trauma, learning disabilities, autism, substance abuse, and attention deficit and hearing/vision loss present daily challenges for children and parents alike. I don’t mean to diminish those with physical challenges. Every day is tough and requires perseverance. As the parent of two children with multiple “invisible” deficits, I know the challenges my children face are no less daunting. An observer might see an immature or poorly behaving child and assume we haven’t figured out how to discipline. Innumerable well-meaning people have responded to my difficulties by saying, “Well, I just wouldn’t allow that.”
My husband and I often say “that’s one battle we can’t fight.” Even something worthwhile and important like proper nutrition is eclipsed by getting a dispirited child out of bed in the morning. Turning in homework becomes cause for celebration. We don’t worry about honor roll or AP classes or SAT prep. We juggle psychiatrist, psychologist, and multiple doctor visits. We are addressing learning disabilities and social developmental delays by e-mailing teachers and meeting with school staff. We sit on the floor for hours with a child with a history of trauma so that he can learn how to calm down when things get scary or difficult.
Every child has precious and remarkable strengths and gifts. During a recent visit, our educational psychologist explained to our son how some of the greatest accomplishments of all time came from those who struggled with organization and time management. They had brilliant minds, but struggled at school. One of my strengths is that I have those organizational skills but I also lack the creativity, joy, and special abilities I see in my boys. I admire them in so many ways and I pray that their friends, teachers, coaches, co-workers, and others will someday slow down enough to see the invisible markings that make my kids special, unique, and worthy. In a world that looks for high achievement in sports performance, GPAs, and test scores — and that awards those who juggle the most activities — my kids aren’t going to measure up. But, when I see how hard they study for a test, persevere through a difficult sports practice, or come through a mental illness set back, that’s when I cheer loudest for them.
My kids have invisible tattoos all over their bodies. God has been writing their story, making them unique with strengths and abilities not everyone can see. I have been granted access to the dark light, so I can see the markings. Someday, when the light is just right, others will see and value them, too.