Being the Parent — 5 Minutes for Special Needs


I sat in the developmental psychologist’s waiting room just simply observing the behavior of the parents. Some were busy filling out paperwork, one was reading a book, another was totally in to playing Angry Birds. Not a single one was watching their child.

I watched these children, who were obviously there for a reason, as they screamed, hit one another, and ransacked the poor bookshelves—while the parents were oblivious. You know, because Angry Birds is more important…

One mother (the one filling out paperwork) finally looked at me, who was staring at the child who had a hold of another child’s ponytail, and said, “You know, I try hard.”

I gave her a nod and a smile and continued reading to Jack to keep him calm. He was not happy with the noise and chaos surrounding him, but I was not going to let him slip in to the darkness and lose control. We talked about pictures on the walls, counted our fingers and toes, and looked for pictures in the shapes of the popcorn ceiling.

Here’s the thing:

Regardless of the label placed on your child, you have to parent them. When I say “parent,” I don’t mean simply give birth to or adopt. I mean, take an active role in raising that person.  In the six years I have spent in therapy, I have learned that special needs children need discipline too. Just because they may be developmentally delayed, have auditory issues, or are unable to communicate—that does not mean that you don’t discipline them. Discipline should be developmentally appropriate and it has to work. In our world, Jack sits in time out. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, we employ other strategies. When we leave the house, he gets a note-card (the ones that are shaped like animals), and when he screams or starts to lose it, I put a sticker on that card so he has something to focus on other than the chaos that he envisions. There are plenty of creative ways to make this work, but the secret is…the parent has to get involved!

It was finally our turn to see the doctor. We spoke ad nauseum about Jack’s issues, and she asked me how I handle all this? This being…a typical teenager, Jack’s medical issues, Jack’s physical issues, Jack’s emotional issues, therapies, my graduate degree… and I simply told her that I am a Mom. I asked to be a mom. I chose to be a mom. I chose to adopt him. I chose to love him. I chose to be a parent. I want to do what is best for him. I wish I could see him thrive and be truly happy….All the things that every other parent wants. The difference is that every day I wake up and choose to be better that day. I choose to love deeper, forgive freer, and accept unconditionally. How can I ever teach my children to be altruistic if they don’t see it from me?

Parents, I’m begging you. Be a parent. Put down the iPhone. Leave the novel in the car for when you’re waiting in car line. Watch how your child interacts with others. Be aware…that’s how you can better serve your own family! Special needs parents: be vigilant. Just because your child can handle the waiting room (or not), does not mean that every other child there can. Have compassion and love for others who are in the same boat (maybe not the same floor or the same row, but they’re there) with you. Hold a door. Offer a tissue. Give free smiles.

But most of all, give love.

Email Author    |    Website About Heather P

Heather is a mom of two, wife, and nurse educator doing what she can to save the day! She lives in Orlando where she is routinely spotted driving while singing ABBA--all on a mission to advocate and educate!

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1 Debbye August 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Great reminders! Before my son was born I worked with families of special needs 0-3 year olds in their homes, and saw many times that parents simply did not know “how” to play and interact with their child/children. It broke my heart sometimes, but lifted me in other times to see the “magic” that would sometimes happen when the parent would put down whatever was keeping them busy and away from their child and sit on the floor and play with their little one. Parenting really can make a difference. Being there really can make a difference.

2 Heather P August 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Agreed! All kids need to play—regardless of age, developmental age, or special need! 🙂

3 Jodi August 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Everybody needs their moments to re group too – but waiting room conditions are pretty much never suitable for that. LOL. I worked really hard to be in the moment with the little guys I saw today. I couldn’t believe how much I just wanted to imitate one little friend. It took lots of energy to wait but I was ready to take my turn the moment he said “go.”Sometimes the hardest part of doing speech therapy is the expectant waiting 🙂

4 Heather P September 21, 2012 at 8:58 am

I applaud you because…speech is ROUGH. You should write a book…I bet you have a TON of stories! Bless!

5 Lisa Gleeson August 25, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Beautifully written! After reading your blog and some of your tweets, I already knew you were a great Mother. Thank you for sharing some of yourself with others. I don’t know if some of those parents “check out” because they are just plain burned out or what, but you are right it is detrimental to their child.


6 Heather P September 21, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thanks Lisa. I really do appreciate you! (YOU!!!!)

7 Tammie August 27, 2012 at 8:34 pm

LOVE IT!! Every time I take my son to the neurology center I think exactly the same thing. When the tech comes out & calls the name of the next patient…the parent then have to look for their kids. Ugh! They don’t even know where they are hiding!

8 Heather P September 21, 2012 at 8:56 am

(oooh…Tammie…I know that feeling too!)

9 jaye September 6, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I always expect parents of special needs kids to not be as judgmental as parents of other kids, and I’m always disappointed. I know there are all sorts of parents who ignore their children, and of course kids need discipline, but you know what I might have thought in that waiting room? That the one filling out paperwork was filling out the papers required by that doctor, like she’s filled out hundreds of times before. And the one reading a book – perhaps this was the first time all day she had a minute to herself. The one playing Angry Birds? Although I loathe walking around these days seeing everyone with their faces in their phones, maybe mom is on the spectrum too and needed to focus on her game to get through the stressful visit. If you know these people and see this behavior all the time, then fine – but don’t judge someone solely based on what you are seeing! Haven’t you thought the same thing before about someone judging your child??

10 Heather P September 21, 2012 at 8:55 am

I don’t disagree with you at ALL. What I am saying is…I think we ALL need to be more present in our children’s lives. We have gotten to be a society of constantly checking our phones or whatever…and we forget how to sit and really play with our kids. That’s what I want. I want us to be present in the moment…for however long that moment may last.

11 terra September 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Such a great reminder. I also think in this same vein – while we are working on being present and being aware of what our child is doing, is offering some grace to the other parents. I sat in the neuropsych’s office last week, and was on my phone texting with my OTHER daughter’s nurse regarding a possible life-threatening infection that was brewing (she has a central IV line that delivers her food/fluids directly to her heart). I am sure that had you seen me, I would have been judged as being a “not there” parent. Sometimes there is simply not enough of us to go around. I’m not saying that there aren’t times I haven’t needed to put down that phone when i was on facebook! But at the end of the day, one thing I’ve learned on this journey of “special needs children” – is that it is impossible to judge a book by it’s cover. People are often carrying burdens that i would never imagine sitting knee to knee with them while their child ransacks the waiting room. I wish I could just give everyone a great big hug and a box of tissues sometimes, tell everyone (mostly myself) – that it’s ok to let it all out every once in a while. But seriously – thank you for this reminder to be more present. I needed to hear it.

12 Heather P September 21, 2012 at 8:52 am

Good point….and thank you! Packing tissues is an essential part of leaving the house most days! 😉

13 Maggie Mae September 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Amen sister! Too many parents are passing the buck (along with too many teachers). Here’s to not just watching, but interacting and intervening, to capturing those teaching moments before they slip away.

14 Heather P September 21, 2012 at 8:51 am

Thank you! I really appreciate it…

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