I've been thinking about parenting, and special needs parenting in particular. So much of it is guess work. I am constantly asking myself if I am doing the right thing. There are many decisions I have struggled with. In the end I generally feel good about choices I have made, but at times I could have used assistance from other parents who had been through similar decisions before. Of course every child is different, so what I have so say now may or may not apply to your situation. However, on the off chance that this helps someone, I will write about a few of the best things I have done so far for my youngest child, now age 3. These are the choices that have helped make our daily living easier.
1. Getting a wheelchair.
I realize for some families this is a necessity and not even a choice. According to our orthopedic doctor, we HAD to get one, too, and yet technically Joshua falls into a gray area. He does walk. Sometimes he can even run! But, his gait is clumsy and he tires very easily. We worked around this issue for years by using a baby stroller, of course. However, it started to become apparent that Joshua was not going to outgrow his issues, and that at times the walking even looks worse than it did before. On top of that, he is extremely tall for his age. His head was uncomfortably above the top of his regular stroller. I had the prescription for the wheelchair on my nightstand for quite some time before I could look at it without wanting to cry. Once I made the call to set up an appointment for measurements and choosing a seat, though, I felt more accepting. And when I saw how excited Joshua was, my heart was even happier. I started to see his wheelchair as freedom... for us both. This will enable us to take long walks or go on long family outings comfortably for years. It does resemble a stroller. It's a nice style. It's even "fire engine red" (per a certain 3 year old's request!) We don't use it every day, but I love knowing it is there. If you are on the fence about getting a wheelchair for a child who is mobile yet struggles, my advice is to go for it. I don't think you.ll regret it, ever.
2. Getting a handicapped tag for my car.
This is related to #1. We got our tag quite some time before the wheelchair, though. It came at the perfect moment, right before a trip to California in which, for still unknown reasons, Joshua lost his ability to walk for a few days. I still use it a lot. Like the wheelchair, I don't use it every day, but I love knowing it is there. I don't abuse it. Whenever possible, we try to park close yet save the actual handicapped spots for people who need them more. I do feel good about knowing we can park in handicapped when we need to maneuver the wheelchair, or when Joshua is sick or low energy. At times, he requests to walk, which I hate to deny, and the tag also comes in handy then. He simply cannot comfortably walk on his own from a far away spot. Being able to park in handicapped and then helping him successfully make it to the door helps his self-esteem, rather than him feeling like everything is too difficult for him movement-wise. If your child is mobile and doesn't always "look sick," be prepared for the potential for clueless, rude folks to question your use of the handicapped tag. This is a downfall, and yet it has only happened to us one time. I think the general public is getting a bit more educated that you cannot always SEE a disability clearly. Plus, when you know you are doing what is right for your child's needs, of course it should not matter what others think, anyhow. Handicapped tags or plates are there for those who need them. If your child falls into this category, even mildly, I suggest you get one.
3. Not obsessing about potty training.
This is tough as a parent. There is a lot of pressure from friends and relatives. Like with other delays, I have had to not think about the chronological age of Joshua too much and "what the other kids are doing." He's always gone at his own pace. I do have days where I panic about the time line a little. And, I have even wondered if his stomach issues and weak muscle tone could make full training an impossibility. I will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, 99 percent of the time, I am able to gently suggest to Joshua that he could try to go potty, but let it go when he can't or won't. I change his diapers without complaining in front of him. He still drinks formula, eats baby food and sleeps in a crib. It therefore shouldn't be shocking that potty training is on the back burner. There are so many other things to work on! I think his little brain is going all the time. He's improved his speech and has become somewhat social at preschool! These are things to cheer about and focus on. I hope I am not still changing diapers when he is in kindergarten, but one day at a time will lead us to whatever outcome is meant to be. If your child is similar, try letting the potty thing go to some extent. Encourage, accept, don't pressure, and see if you both feel a lot more content with each other.
There are other decisions I feel good about, too, but right now these are my top 3. Of course I have my share of mistakes also. (See previous blogs for some of those confessions!) There are so many important things to figure out all the time while raising children. When kids have extra needs beyond the ordinary, life becomes even more confusing, but remembering to relax and ask for help go a long way towards making daily living easier.