When my family moved to Texas over nine years ago, God planted us in a neighborhood two houses down from a family with special needs. As we raised our children together and grew in friendship, I learned a lot about building relationships and came to understand the unique challenges that special needs families face. My family has been abundantly blessed through this relationship.
The road to friendship, though, wasn’t always smooth. In hindsight, I can see how God’s grace held us together and taught us how to love each other well. There were many points where our friendship could have broken down. Unfortunately, beautiful friendships are often times lost because of fear of the unknown, preconceived notions and lack of communication.
Finding an entry point to a relationship can be one of the challenges. At our first play date, the mom let me know her boys had autism and let me ask questions. This open door to communication has served our friendship well over the past decade and set the stage for us to talk through issues. And challenges did arise.
Most of us lack knowledge about developmental disabilities and how they affect the daily lives of families. Therefore, what may seem like insensitivity or callousness may just be lack of information.
My children and I did not know what it meant that first time one of her sons jumped around and waved his hands in the air. I also did not understand the exhaustion she felt at always having to advocate for her children. There were so many words that were new to me yet part of her daily vocabulary. How do you bridge such a gap?
It took time and a lot of communication. At times, I feared that my children would ask questions or make observations that would cause awkwardness or wound our new friends. Sometimes they did, and our friends forgave us.
In my ignorance about the struggles the mom faced every day, I feared offending her with my questions. But, she graciously dropped any defensiveness and fear of rejection, and I ditched my fear of the unknown and assumptions. She helped me look past the surface to find common ground.
One of the first things I learned is that a special needs parent’s love for their children is beautiful and strong. These parents know how to work hard, sacrifice themselves and give generously. I admired those things in my friend.
However, as I tried to interact with them and enter their sphere, I found they often had a hard time asking for and receiving help. So, trust came slowly. It took me a lot of time to realize why. They must constantly advocate or intercede for their children in a world that does not understand them and often does not accept them. That’s difficult for any parent.
There was give and take in our relationship. And, over time, my children and I learned to speak her children’s language. When her son jumped around and waved his hands in the air, he was happy—immensely happy. My children could laugh with him and join in his joy. The mom even learned to trust me with her children and let me help her so she could rest.
The special needs families we have been blessed to know over the years possess wisdom, strength and grace forged in the fires of difficulty and advocacy. Their children have gifts and abilities that have inspired and taught my children to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Altogether, these amazing families and their children have deeply impacted our lives. Their selfless love is beautiful and sacrificial. Being near these families inspires me to love deeply, to persist vigorously and to give grace readily. They model this daily, and the fruit shows in their children.
Whether in the hills of North Georgia, the bayous of Louisiana, the mountains of Colorado or the wide plains of Texas, Melissa Smith finds joy in the simple moments of life and the majestic beauty of God’s creation. After a few years teaching high school English, God redirected her to stay at home to raise her children. She now lives in Texas where she home schools her three children, enjoys photography and reading whenever there is a free moment—leaning on Christ as she learns to laugh at the days to come.
Author: Melissa Smith. Published in: Review – Spring 2017. This article is reprinted with permission of Texas Home School Coalition and the author. It originally appeared in Review magazine. Visit THSC.org.