Last week, my schedule landed me in a hospital exam room, sitting uncomfortably on a plasticky couch, filling out miles of paperwork, and watching as an awkward young doctor ran various assessments on my delayed four-year-old son, Jude.
This isn’t anything new; I’ve sat in many of these evaluations (as I’m sure all parents with “exceptional” children can relate to): at checkups, at IEP meetings, at therapy sessions, consults, etc. I’ve been through grueling autism testing with my older son, Elijah—testing that punched me in the gut and left me breathless. In Jude’s case, I’ve held my breath, hoping for him to pass tests that, deep down, I knew he couldn’t pass. I’ve felt the weight of disappointment, watching my empty optimism slip like sand through my fingers. But, at some point in the process, I began to realize that I was becoming ok with it, all of it. And so, on this particular day, after all those prior experiences, I kinda felt like an old pro. This round of testing didn’t hold any surprises; I knew how my boy was going to do.
As a “special” parent, there is definitely a process of grieving. There is denial, and anger, and sadness, and even bargaining. But gradually over time, gloriously, acceptance floods in. And with acceptance comes immeasurable peace.
And so, as that young awkward doctor brought up “potential future diagnosis of intellectual disability” with me in that hospital exam room, I didn’t even flinch. Not even on the inside. Those words—intellectual disability—on my lips, in my heart, they just didn’t leave me feeling devastated. I didn’t feel like our world was shifting or our futures were altered.
I felt… fine. I felt… content. No, having a child with an ID, autism, or any other physical or mental disability isn’t fun and games. And yes, absolutely, we’ve grieved over what he won’t have and what he won’t experience and what he won’t do. But I know my boy, and I love him for all the things he is. All the things he’s not are irrelevant. I think, in the process of acceptance, the Lord graciously has allowed me to understand some unchanging truths about His Word and His children, and these things have filled me with joy and hope as I parent my exceptional children.
Children with special needs are still Image Bearers of God! My little guy might not know his colors or be able to speak in sentences, but he still bears God’s image, and he’s still a masterpiece. He’s indispensably valuable. He’s worth more than gold; he’s a prize creation. He was knit together in his mother’s womb, beautifully and wonderfully. He was brought forth for a purpose—on purpose. He was placed in my arms for a reason, and he has a hope and a future.
Being an Image Bearer means he’s fundamentally gifted in certain ways. He is created with certain abilities and skills that are important in this world and to this world. Being “delayed” or “deficient” in certain areas doesn’t disqualify him from having attributes that are useful and admirable. I love this; I love seeing the personality the Lord has given my boy, a personality that reflects his Creator. He’s extroverted, joyful, funny, social, amiable, loving. And he’s only four years old! Watching him grow into the man that God has planned for him promises to be thrilling and exciting.
Although, of course, all kids are an immeasurable joy, special kids have an incomparable capacity to bring joy to a family. A kid with delays sometimes can teach us more than we ever realized about joy! Their bliss, their joy in the small things, their simple laugh, sense of humor, and uncompromised optimism are a huge blessing and such an honor to a family. Their passion, their will, their strength, their resolve—these things amaze and inspire us. There’s also joy, as a parent, when we are forced to let go of preconceived notions (human will and desire) of being in control. There’s joy in the freedom of letting go of the belief that my children are my own creation, and knowing that they are created by and for the Father.
Also, being made in the image of God, being valuable and worthwhile, and being loved by the Heavenly Father means these unique and special kids are capable of salvation and, thus, spiritual gifting and purpose in the Body of Christ. God created the child, and he has a purpose. He is capable of salvation. And it follows that he can receive the Spirit of God, be touched with a gift, be useful in the Body, play a role, and hold a purpose for others. He can be used to grow the kingdom and can lead others to the Father.
There’s one other thing that is a unique blessing for special families: it’s a joy to be the recipients of the grace of others. My family has barely begun this journey, but already I have learned that people want to love you, and they want to help carry your burdens, support you, and pray for you. They want to share their own experiences and wisdom and are so willing to walk with you down this road. And they unapologetically love your child. It’s a very sweet thing to be the recipient of such holy care.
Sure, a battery of assessments and tests can measure his IQ, and predictions can be made about where he will end up on the curve, but there’s absolutely no limitations on his potential. God’s Word is truthful and unchanging, and trusting in it leads us to understand that the hope of eternity, the hope of purpose, of gifts, and of value is being held in these tiny hands, and no label, no delay, no challenge can diminish that.