Try harder.

I saw it happen again today. The mom of child with special needs says, “But what about me? My child doesn’t fit into your mold.” And the mold maker says, “Try harder,” or worse, “But I’ve seen other children with special needs fit into my mold.”

Try harder.

To any mom of a child with special needs who was “encouraged” to try harder, I’m so sorry. Unless they have experienced what we have, they don’t know. They just don’t know that no matter how hard you try, your kid won’t fit into any mold.

They’ve never experienced well-meaning people looking at you like you have failed when you are working to exhaustion trying to find the right therapies, the right treatments, or just the right clothes that don’t make your child have a meltdown.

And they don’t see the work that went into even the tiny triumph of sitting in a restaurant and enjoying a meal like “regular” people. They just don’t know.

Sure, they might have experienced the humiliation of a temper tantrum in public. But they’ve never had someone genuinely look at their child with pity – when you know that awe is what they should really being feeling. Awe at what your child has had to overcome to do simple things like sitting up or using a fork.

I’ve seen them time and again. The lists of things you should never say to a mom with a child with special needs. I can’t speak for other moms, but I’ll tell you what I’d love to hear from my friends, family, church and school families, and just people in general.

“We are just going to throw out that mold and accept your child for who they are. And not only that, we’re going to teach our children to do the same. The days of your child having to live away from society without ‘bothering’ anyone are over. We see you. And we need you to be part of our community, and we’ll do whatever we can to make that happen.”

Because disability is a part of humanity. It’s not about giving other people special privileges. It’s about setting up a system where we care for each other because – unless we die tragically at a young age – we will very likely become disabled through age or circumstance. So, caring for the most vulnerable among us is caring for ourselves. Accepting people with disabilities is accepting that humanity is fragile, that life is precious, and that no matter your ability, you have a part to play in our world.

Dear special needs mom, I see you and hear you. And your child has a place in our community. And if you’re feeling out of place, it’s not from a lack of trying. It’s because your community hasn’t caught up to what you know to be true. That your child doesn’t have “special needs,” your child just has the need to belong. And we need to make that happen.

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