Four Things I Learned Parenting “Different” Kids

When you first become a parent, all you really know is that you love your child. You love them more than you ever imagined it was possible to love someone.

Then, slowly, their unique personalities are revealed. And sometimes other differences as well.

If you only have one child, it can be hard to tell if something about them is different.  Maybe they are normal for your family. For our family, my son wasn’t that unusual. It took us four years to figure out that he was differently wired.

If you aren’t familiar, being differently wired refers to having a brain that takes in and processes information a little differently. For example, differently wired people may have autism/Asperger’s, ADHD, or be gifted, have dyslexia or a number of other things.

Recognizing Differently Wired Kids

In retrospect, the signs that my son was differently wired were all there. He was exceptionally alert. He didn’t like to be cradled, only held upright so he could look around.

When he played, his focus was intense. His expressions looked more like someone working on a difficult project than a baby trying to reach a toy.

He started talking around 11 months.  And then his articulation regressed and his words became unclear. But he still found ways to make his needs known.

He was always busy (unless he was asleep). His tantrums were epic, and could last for hours.  And while his friends were working on handled puzzles, he was  solving complex puzzles with 20+ pieces.

But for our family, these things weren’t that unusual, except for the tantrums. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I realized how difficult my son truly was. I remember thinking, “so, this is what it’s like for other moms.”

Although, I still had no idea how much raising my son, and later my daughter would change me. Mostly in ways I didn’t expect. But looking back now, I can tell you the top four ways that raising differently wired kids has changed me for the better.

4 Things I Learned Raising Differently Wired Kids

1. It Made Me Let Go of Fitting In

The first thing raising my differently wired kids taught me was to let go of fitting in.

Before I was a mom, I cared a little more about what other people thought about me. Not in a pathological narcissistic way, but in the normal “make a good first impression” way. I didn’t want to be embarrassed in public. Who does?

But when your child is differently wired, you learn quickly that your fitting in days are done. Because when you child doesn’t fit in, you don’t fit in either.

The first time I noticed how different my son was at a local Mommy & Me class. Compared to the other toddlers, he was much louder, much more active, more curious, more intense, and just plain more. I can remember thinking he was the only one that looked fully awake.

It wasn’t unusual for strangers to tell me “wow, you’ve really got your hands full” as I wrangled a squirming, sometimes screaming, toddler away from the toy department at Target.

Differently wired kids just tend to draw lots of attention in public. Whether they are having a meltdown, saying unexpected things, or crawling around pretending to be a magical cheetah, people just notice.

2. It Made Me Stronger

Another thing that raising differently wired kids has taught me is that I am stronger than I thought. I am strong because my children need me to be.

I honestly don’t know how I survived that first three years of motherhood. All I know is each day, I got up no matter how tired I was. And did whatever needed to be done. Most of those years are a blur. But what I mostly remember is love and exhaustion.

Even with a full night’s sleep, taking care of my son took exhaustion to a whole new level. But what did I know? Since he was my first child, all of his idiosyncrasies and meltdowns seemed normal to me.

Looking back, I don’t even remember what we did all day. But I do remember that he needed constant, in the same room, supervision.

I remember that he was obsessed with moving all the dining room chairs around. He also worked hard at lining up his cars and trains in perfectly straight lines.

And he was so strong-willed! Or at least that’s what we thought at the time. I read parenting books looking for ways to make him a better listener. I looked for answers online, and finally consulted with experts.

A Diagnosis

By the time my son was four, we had a diagnosis of PDDNOS (an autism spectrum disorder). And all the difficulties of the past four years finally made sense.

Screaming and running around the room whenever the vacuum cleaner came on? Sensory problem. Throwing fits for no apparent reason? Frustration that he wasn’t being understood.  “Refusing” to obey? Rigid thinking and inability to shift tasks.

Parenting a child with autism is not for wimps. Just making it through the day is a struggle. For us, the first 5 years were the hardest.

But, we have been fortunate that every year since then, my son has gotten a little easier. Looking back I have to say that the only thing that kept me going was love. Love has a way of making us stronger than we ever thought we could be.

3. It Taught Me to Embrace Challenges

Parenting differently wired kids taught me to embrace challenges. Because moms of differently wired kids face a lot of challenges.

Over the years, I have learned to have the tough conversations. To challenge things that don’t seem right. And to go as far as we need to go to resolve problems – even when it isn’t easy and the outcome is uncertain.

I have never liked conflict. But being a mother, you come to realize that you will fight for your child in ways you would never fight for yourself.

Misunderstood at School

For example, every school year when we get a new teacher, their first instinct is to be stricter. Even though they know my son’s diagnosis, and even though we have strategies documented in his IEP, there is always the belief that if we just “crack down” he will shape up.

I understand why they may think this. My son’s disabilities are invisible. He looks just like every other boy in class. He’s also exceptionally intelligent. When you hear his vocabulary and his reasoning ability, it is easy to get the impression that he just isn’t trying.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And the “crack-down on misbehavior” approach only increases his anxiety and makes his behavior worse.

So almost every year, we meet. And then we email. Then we meet again a few more times. It usually takes until around February to get the teacher on board with what works.

Advocating for a Group that Fits

And behavior isn’t the only thing we meet about. Getting appropriate reading instruction is another challenge we face. My son’s profile of strengths and weaknesses is very spikey.

This means he has both extreme cognitive strengths and equally extreme weaknesses. This makes finding instructional methods that work for him very difficult.

For example, there is no reading group that fits him. His word reading is too low for the on grade level group. But his comprehension and his need for quicker instructional pacing make the low group a poor fit as well.

Its’ times like these when you realize the school truly doesn’t have a program that fits your child, or a plan for how to educate him. And it’s terrifying.

As a parent to differently wired kids, you learn that a school will never understand your child’s needs the way you do. And that the only way to create a custom learning plan that works is to get involved, and fight for your child.

4. I Learned to See Life from a Different Perspective

Raising differently wired kids taught me to see life from a different perspective.

While I learned to let go, be strong, and embrace challenges from raising my son, I learned to see life from a different perspective from raising my wildly creative daughter.

She is as intense as my son, but in a different way. She is also extremely intelligent. And wise beyond her years when it comes to understanding people’s emotions, motivations, and behaviors.

One of her teacher’s called her “a tiny Dr. Phil.” She makes friends easily, and at conferences, teachers gush over her reading and writing abilities. She loves to read, write, and pretend.

Let’s Pretend

She started pretending before she could walk or talk. She especially liked to pretend to be animals when she was younger. Once in preschool, she spent several days as “Barky the dog.”

She crawled around the preschool classroom and barked all day instead of talking. She ate her lunch on the floor, and had the other two-year olds brush her, pet her back, and throw toys for her to fetch.

This went on so long that her teacher had to have a discussion with us, and her. And reluctantly, a little girl returned to class the next day (instead of Barky).

Tell Me a Story

Nowadays, when she isn’t pretending to be someone or something, she is writing. Mostly Warrior Cats inspired fiction.

And honestly, I can’t believe how good her stories are. They definitely don’t sound like they were written by a nine-year old.

I am so grateful to have been invited into her imagination. I love sharing ideas and interests with her and experiencing her unique way of looking at the world.

In sharing with her, I have rediscovered an excitement for learning, and creating new things that had been left behind during the early and exhausting days of motherhood.

But most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to parent both of my differently wired children. They have changed my life for the better in endless ways.

Being a Special Needs Parent Helped Me Let Go of Fitting In


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