Special Needs Parenting :: On Inspiring Others - by Carey Nelson Handley

It was always my hope that my words and the story of my journey of Special Needs parenting would inspire others. The thousands of hours of research and the resources of doctors, therapists, educational and social programs that I’ve shared have hopefully helped others. It’s not something that will always immediately resonate with others and we don’t always know when we’ve made an impression, but we hope we have.

How we touch people is not always how we expect it to happen or something we set out to do. At times, it’s something said in passing or something that is seen by others when we are with our children. Recently, I found out that while I was with my dog, Godiva, on a Therapy Dog visit over five years ago, I said something to the teacher whose classroom we were visiting. Knowing I have a daughter with Special Needs, she told me about her “Autistic daughter”. Without thinking, I corrected her to use “person-first” language so she would be mentioning her daughter first, rather than defining her by her diagnosis. Apparently, that made a huge impact in her teaching and her parenting as I found out recently, more than five years after the conversation.

I received a message from her telling me how much my words changed her life. We hadn’t really spoken since that visit so her message to me was completely unexpected. She went on to tell me that she has gone on to share these words in her daughter’s school and has gone as far as Congress with her advocacy for “person-first” language. That conversation we had in the doorway of her classroom made a huge impact on her and she’s paid it forward by continuing to spread the message. Imagine how many more people have been impacted because one person spoke up and changed the dialogue.

Showing how we parent our children can also make a difference to others. While all parents face challenges in parenting, Special Needs parenting can sometimes be more frustrating and last longer. After all, some of our children will live with us even after they turn 18 and some will not mentally progress beyond the level of a much younger child. How we parent with grace and patience can be an inspiration to others whether their children have Special Needs or not.

I’ve always told the story of my parenting journey because I’d rather people didn’t assume they understand. I’d much rather they ask me what they don’t know.

Journalist Robin Roberts said, “Let your mess be your message.” By sharing our stories, we can be inspiring others and making a tremendous difference along the way.

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