Special Needs Parenting :: Birthday Parties and Babysitters - by Carey Nelson Handley

When our daughter was young, we had marvelous birthday parties for her. Whether it was a bounce house or a trip to Build-a-Bear with her classmates, she always had great turnouts of happy, smiling children, all enjoying themselves and the festivities. I took a few cake decorating classes and many of the mothers attending the parties wanted to know if I would make 3D cakes for their children. I had great gift bags for the attendees, usually related to the theme of the party. Children and adults left the party in a great mood and, most importantly, our daughter was excited and felt loved by her classmates.

Within a few years, as the differences in her development became more noticeable, I saw that the list of people she wanted to invite to her birthday parties became fewer and I also saw that she wasn’t being invited to other children’s parties. Fortunately, either she didn’t notice or she didn’t care. At any rate, she never said anything to us about either. Still, as a mother, my heart ached for her, remembering the joy that she felt during earlier years and wondering if it would ever be the same for her.

Parents of children with Special Needs watch our friends’ posts of proms and graduations, well-turned out birthdays and senior trips and know that our posts look very different. I’ve sometimes wondered, perhaps not really wanting to know the truth, about whether my daughter feels like she is missing something. She’s a beautiful, friendly girl and adults love her but she has trouble relating to people her own age who take her for someone considerably younger. Years ago, a friend and I used to meet for dinner a few times a week with our children who were around the same age. Not too long ago, I was lamenting about my daughter having few friends and she told me her daughter would be happy to spend time with my daughter. I asked her if it would be as a peer or a babysitter. Here her daughter was, married with children and my daughter was reading on a third-grade level.

We often wonder how much our children with Special Needs comprehend and how much of life they understand they will miss. It’s common for many of us to question if we’re doing enough to bring value to their lives to make up for what we can’t give them. We ask if it’s their disability that’s limiting them or is it us? How do we know what they are capable of without putting them at risk or in harm’s way? How much of their lives do we live for them?

When you have a child with limitations, determining their capabilities is not always obvious. Helping them find a purpose that makes their life meaningful will give them both the chance to grow to their potential and give them the sense of security that will keep them safe.


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