Your Child Has Special Needs? Really?

I’ve got a child with a disability. Most people don’t believe me because he’s verbal, funny, plays hockey and does anything a normal 6 year old does. My child is one of those who have a “hidden disability,” or one that’s not visible to the  naked eye.

This is Isaac.

Isaac has been diagnosed with a language processing disorder as well as moderate to severe ADHD. He’s also got fine motor control issues, which we think are related to the ADHD. What this all means is that he’s got a hard time processing what he hears said to him and well, the ADHD speaks for itself.

Parenting a child with a hidden disability is a very tough balancing act. On one hand, you don’t  want the world to see that your child has a disability, but on the other hand, you do need to make modifications for some of the things that they do.  The two questions that I constantly ask myself are:

  • am I modifying too much or am I modifying too little?
  • is this teaching him to cope or am I doing it for him?

Answering the first question is mostly easy for me. Isaac is a pretty independent soul who likes to try things by himself and do what he can himself. If he gets irritated with me, then I’ve modified things too much. If he shows signs of frustration, I’ve modified too little. In some cases, I let the frustration go, because I know he can do the task I’ve asked him to do and he’s just trying to get out of it.

The second question can be a bit trickier, especially in public places. When a bout of frustration hits, sometimes, because of the limited language,  there are outbursts. Yes, outbursts are a normal part of being a child, but when the outburst is by a child with a hidden disability, people tend to look at your child as if the child is undisciplined, spoiled or just plain bratty.  Where do you draw the line between letting your child know that staring people and people who make comments are just part of the world and defending them? I’ve said out loud on several occasions “Oh, ADHD is so much fun!”

But what am I doing? Am I coping for him, defending him or teaching him, or even in some cases, defending myself to the onlookers.

It’s an insane balancing act.

The other part of parenting a child with a hidden disability is really the perception of the outside world when they find out that your child needs supports. Responses run the gamut from “your child has special needs, really? You’re kidding, right?” to the people who pull back from your child like they’ve got the plague and think they need to be segregated in a special classroom or area of the activity and not join in with their peers.

I’ve had both happen with Isaac. We’ve been welcomed with open arms in places like town park camp and swim lessons, and segregated in places like church Sunday School.  Yes, Sunday School.

But for all of the tough things that parenting a child with a hidden disability brings, there are the great things. I can say for certain that Isaac wouldn’t be the same without the ADHD and the language processing disorder. I don’t think I’d have the same resilient child if he didn’t have to struggle through the day to concentrate and understand what’s going on. I know for a fact that we wouldn’t have the same laughs and giggles. Not a chance. I also know we wouldn’t marvel at how the mind works as much as we do now.

I also know that if I didn’t have a child with a disability that I wouldn’t be the same type of mom that I am. And that’s a good thing.

Laura Folos is a mom and teacher who lives in Upstate NY. She blogs over at My 3 Ring Circus of a Life , which chronicles everything under the sun in her life that makes life seem like the clowns are running the show.





  1. 1

    Great article! My son is ADHD times a thousand and has been confused by others as autistic and he is not autistic I questioned over and over thinking it was the problem and had him tested three times but it as the doctors and psychologist said ADHD and autism are similar but different. I dread activities sometimes, like at church last week, when an elderly man just thought he was a brat and looked at me as if I was some kind of terrible Mom(which hurts to no end because NO ONE knows what you go through). His meds had worn off and he was off the charts and being that is was 7:15 I could not give him more medicine. It’s so hard and I have a baby, also. One would also never know to look at my son that anything was wrong. During VBS he stood on stage and made Buzz Lightyear sounds and touched his pretend space pack. It’s so hard when you know others are staring and thinking “What the heck is wrong with that child!”. Thanks for bringing it to the worlds attention and I may just post myself. I have been wanting to and you just gave me much needed motivation! Thanks and keep up the great work Mom!! I am right there with you and I would love to link back to you on my blog. =)

  2. 2

    Yes, it is a great article. We are so fortunate that Laura has joined our writing team here at VoM! It’s been something that has been on my mind for several months now, so I am ecstatic to finally have someone to write about it. Welcome aboard and thank you, Laura!

    Karen, stick around, as Laura will have 2 more posts next week and then she starts writing monthly in September. You are also more than welcome to share your experiences with your son with us.

  3. 3

    Thank you SO much for sharing your story with us….(tears) I am a mom of a child with hidden disabilities too. It is SO hard some days and so amazing other days. Lately we have had more hard days though as he is fighting change as I got married in April. He adored his “new daddy” before we got married….but isn’t so sure he likes not being able to manipulate and hurt mommy whenever he wants. Having daddy back mommy up and help me with consistency is something that he is fighting a lot. He is EXTREMELY bright too…and so when we have problem with him at school they act like he is just bratty because he is so smart and should know better. He has a horrible time with social skills. Sigh…thank you for helping me to see that I am not alone. This article meant so much to me.

  4. 4

    Thanks for writing this! My youngest has hidden disabilities too and so often people don’t see it until the inevitable meltdown happens. It’s certainly made me much more sympathetic to other families when I see a child acting out. My daughter is an amazing kid and she brightens the world so much. And she has definitely helped me to be a better mother. I learn so much just from being with her.

  5. 5

    Thank you for your insightful post! I know two moms whose kids have language processing disorders. Where do you go to get information on that?

  6. 6

    Hi! I just found your site via Mailbox Monday. I am so excited to find you! I just subscribed to you via email. My daughter has a heart defect and some ‘special’ needs’ due to that and spending the first two years of her life in a crib in a Chinese orphanage. I totally know the dance you are talking about…how much to bring the needs to light and how much to let them be hidden…it is quite a dance!

  7. 7

    Karen- I totally understand. I’ve had the same thing happen to me-we were asked by people at a doctor’s office on several occasions if we were sure he wasn’t autistic! Yep, we’re sure! Feel free to link back! I’m always happy to have linkies!

    Mary Joy- I’m so glad you found us! You are so not alone. Trust me. Even though we all feel alone at times, we’re all out there! We really are! ((BIG HUGS))

    Pragmatic Mom- I would check with your local university if they have a speech and language program. They would have the most up to date information on treatment and other issues.

    Jess and Shannon- Aren’t these kids awesome? I’m just a smidge biased here…LOL! It’s nice to know that other people are dancing as well, isn’t it?


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