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Special Children Make Special Parents

Esther Ilana Rabi

When a child is born with special needs, his parents have to adjust to a future unlike the one they’d pictured and stretch in ways they never envisioned

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

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“We have gone from ‘adjusting’ to Yehuda to celebrating him. When I see how much simchah he brings to others, I wonder, Who is the disabled one? He has transformed me into a more thoughtful, respectful, joyful, patient, understanding, and accepting person. He has influenced me more than any other person I know. I thank Hashem every day for this unexpected gift.”

"O ur twins were beautiful babies. We watched in wonder as our daughter and son grew: sitting up at the same time, learning to stand at more or less the same time, even beginning to walk and climb stairs together. Then, in the second year, something changed and our little boy stopped growing,” remembers Bradley Artson. Their once thriving son, Jacob, began compulsively repeating meaningless motions, endlessly plucking leaves or throwing pebbles for hours.

“It was like he was pulling away, somehow sliding into some other world, behind some wall that we couldn’t penetrate,” says Bradley. “The horror was so vast that we willingly agreed with the popular pabulum that people offered us: We shouldn’t be pressuring our son to be like our daughter. We need to let him grow to be who he is. We shouldn’t label the boy. We repeated these statements to ourselves until we couldn’t honestly say them any longer. Until the reality was so pressing that it shredded our denial.”

Although the Artsons recognized there was something alarming about Jacob’s behavior, they were still stunned by the doctor’s official diagnosis of autism. “I felt as though the entire universe had caved in. I confess that I experienced fantasies of his dying. I imagined being rid of him, of starting over,” Bradley relays. “For months, the pain was so great that I couldn’t speak about it to anybody. I couldn’t face the fear and pain of not knowing whether he’d ever come out of his shell. I didn’t know if I’d ever hear him speak to me.”

After the initial shock, Bradley came to accept his son, and not only his son, but himself and everyone else. “Those daydreams about Jacob dying made me realize that the only possibility more terrifying than living with Jacob and his illness is the thought of living without him,” Bradley says. “Jacob’s diagnosis ultimately taught me that our worth is not what we do; it is that we are. What is precious is simply that being ourselves, we bring something precious into the world.”

Before she gave birth to Chedvah, Etty remembers how uncomfortable she felt around special needs kids. “I didn’t know how to react,” she admits. “You’re only in the club when you’re in the club”

Children with special needs don’t need special families; they make regular families special. But the inner journey toward greatness usually starts with major hurdles, as parents adjust to the reality that their child will never be on the “normal” track.

 

First Impressions

Yocheved had nine older children when her daughter with Down syndrome was born. “When Miri was born, I was more concerned with all the people she was going to affect than I was with her,” she admits. “ ‘How will this affect shidduchim for the other kids?’ I fretted. Then I began to get anxious about how I’d manage.”

Her rabbi rescued her from the pit of worry she was digging herself into. “He told us, ‘Don’t worry until you have to.’ I began to see that I can cross each bridge when I come to it. When the time comes, HaKadosh Baruch Hu helps — but not before.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 579)

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