Fathering A Special Needs Child

1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  John 9:1-3 (NIV)

On April 26, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

My second child, Kyle, was born May 24, 2002.  He was a big, healthy baby and was, and will always be, a tremendous blessing to me.  We noticed at an early age that he was not reaching the “typical” milestones for babies and toddlers in terms of walking, talking, etc.  We eventually had him tested for hearing loss, brain function, blood tests, etc.  All of the tests came back normal, but his development was not normal.  In particular, he showed little interest in talking and had a very limited vocabulary. 

We finally had him diagnosed by a doctor and received the diagnosis of PDD-NOS.  I remember looking at that and thinking ok well now we know what we have so let’s make a plan to fix it.  However, I later realized that autism is a spectrum disorder with no known cure, and each person that has it falls onto the spectrum of somewhere between high functioning to severe.  You may recall the movie Temple Grandin which was about an animal science professor that had high functioning autism.  PDD-NOS stands for pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified, which to me simply means – we don’t really know what your child has so we created a category and called it PDD-NOS instead of WDK (we don’t know).

As a family with a special needs child, the family has special needs.  The family needs schools, churches, restaurants, dentists, etc that are accommodating to special needs children.  We were blessed to find an excellent PreK program at Southdowns Elementary in Baton Rouge.  However, he aged out of the program and we were left looking at our education options which ranged from lousy to expensive.  We declined lousy and hired a private teacher to work with our son.  Also, our church was accommodating and invited us to attend several meetings to discuss setting up a special needs Sunday School room. 

I have heard some parents say that when they received the diagnosis of autism for their child they felt as if part of their child had died.  They have told me that their dreams and hopes for their child have been shattered and they were forced to realize that their child will not live a “typical” life.  I never felt that way.  I believe in continuous improvement.  So, Kyle goes to school year around.  This is expensive, but it is best for his development.  I realize that there are many things he will never do such as get married, drive a car, or play high school sports and that is fine with me.  I focus on the things that he can do.  He can go for walks with me and hold my hand.  He can go to the movies with me and share a tub of popcorn and a soda while we enjoy an animated movie.  He enjoys playing fetch with our dog.  And he can give the best hugs that can cure a head ache much better than any aspirin. 

A child with special needs certainly does put a strain on any marriage.  A 2010 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that parents with ASD children were nearly twice as likely to get divorced than couples without disabled children. The study revealed something interesting: the divorce rates in parents with disabled children did not increase until the children became teens or adults.  My own marriage ended after 20 years when Kyle was 12 years old. 

Kyle has a bright future.   I want him to become as independent as possible.  Like other children, he yearns for his father’s approval and I try to always acknowledge every good thing that he does.  So, there is no need to change or “cure” Kyle.  He is perfect just as he is.  He is a child of God, and a tremendous blessing to me.  I do want him to live a happy life and be as independent as possible. 

We hold hands and pray before each meal.  I offer the blessing and then gently squeeze his hand at the end and he clearly and proudly says “Amen!”   Kyle is a blessing to me and has taught me so much about what is really important in life. 

Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the blessing to be a father.  We recognize that all of us are your children and heirs to your Kingdom.  Help us to raise our children to reach their full potential.  We know that you want all of the children to come to you and that gives us peace.  Thank you for your son and the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  We love you and need you.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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