10 Things My Daughter With Special Needs Has Taught Me About Life

I always knew that becoming a mother would be a learning experience — and boy, has it been. Over the past five years since I gave birth to our daughter, I’ve learned a ton. I have learned about myself as a person and about the indescribable depths of love one can have for such a tiny being. I have learned how to see the wonder in things through a child’s eyes and how to tap into that long lost part of me. I have learned about boredom busting, boo boo fixing, and meltdown defusing. I expected all of these things. What I did not expect was that my 5-year-old daughter would teach me invaluable life lessons at such a young age.

Image Source: Mia Carella

My daughter is a special little girl. She was born with serious health issues, which have led to significant delays in reaching her developmental milestones. She went through multiple surgeries and medical procedures as a baby. She did not crawl until 19 months and did not walk until 30 months. She did not talk at all until two and a half, and is still many months, if not years, behind her peers with speech. Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, she is wise beyond her years. Some things I have learned from her are as follows:

1. Relax and slow down.

And I don’t mean this in the cliché “enjoy every moment” way. She has literally said both of these things to me. When I start to get upset about silly things and raise my voice, she will say, “Okay. ‘Lax, Mommy” in such a cute and innocent way that I can’t help but smile. I also find I have the tendency to constantly nudge her to hurry up with things. Even if I don’t say the words, she senses it and will at times say in a calm, soft voice, “Slow down” while slowly motioning her hands up and down. Again, so cute (or maybe I’m just biased).

2. Watch your body language.

My daughter is like a little living mirror. She plays her own game of “Simon Says” in which she will subtly model your actions. I could be standing in the kitchen talking to my husband and look over to see her standing the same way. It could be any minor action — hands on hips or a head tilt or the same facial expression. By watching her watch me I have seen my faces and unconscious mannerisms acted out. It has given me a lot of insight into my own body language. She keeps me in check.

3. Put your phone away.

Again, something she has actually said to me. I am very aware that I am on my phone or the iPad [too] often. I have read many articles on the importance of being present with your children and how technology interferes with this, but nothing hits home like your child asking you to put away your devices. Be in the moment.

4. Sleep is necessary to be on your best behavior.

I didn’t really need a reminder of the benefits of sleep — I have always been a huge advocate of it. However, watching the difference in my daughter’s behavior with and without a nap has confirmed this big time. This applies to everyone — kids and grown-ups alike. Let’s all get some sleep.

5. Be more outgoing.

As a lifelong introvert, I sometimes have difficulty mustering up the energy to socialize. My daughter, however, is the opposite. Despite her significant speech delays, she greets everyone with a smile and a “Hello.” At the supermarket, at school, at the doctor’s office — it doesn’t matter where. As I have observed her reaching out to complete strangers (yes, we discuss “stranger danger”), I have noticed how this little gesture affects people. I have watched grumpy, hurried people break out into smiles time after time. Men, women, young, old, big, small — the small act of reaching out can truly improve any person’s day.

6. Be grateful for each day.

My daughter wakes up each day like it’s Christmas morning. When she realizes the “sun is awake” a smile will break out across her face and she will break out into a chorus of her own personal wake-up song. It is difficult (although not impossible) to get up on the wrong side of the bed when you are greeted at the crack of dawn by her excitement for a new day. Coffee and the promise of nap time help, too.

7. There is always time for snuggles.

As all parents know, mornings are a rushed and harried time. Getting your kid(s) up, fed, dressed and groomed before school is an Olympic feat. But I also have learned that there is always time for snuggles. Lately my daughter has been asking to cuddle after waking up in the morning. If your child asks for cuddles, do it – even if it is only for one minute. Some day they won’t ask anymore. [insert sad face emoji here]

8. You are stronger than you know.

I have learned from watching my brave little girl that inner strength is an amazing thing. As I mentioned, she was born with serious health issues and has been through so much in her little life, including open heart surgery as an infant. She continues to amaze us every day with her strength and positivity through it all. I have also learned that I am stronger than I ever knew, as well. It’s amazing what you can do when you have to.

9. Every once in a while, look in the mirror and tell yourself you are beautiful.

Almost every day after she gets dressed for school and I put her hair up into her usual messy bun, my daughter will walk over to her mirrored closet doors, gaze at herself and say, “I am beautiful!” After this, I respond with the words “inside and out,” which we practice saying in unison. This ritual is not something I taught her, but something that just came to her naturally. Such a simple little affirmation to start her day, and something I think we could all benefit from doing. I hope she holds on to this confidence as she gets older.

10. We can learn as much from our children as they can learn from us. They are amazing little teachers.

Truth. If we truly listen, our children will always surprise us with the depth of their innocent wisdom that has not yet been shaped by years of life experiences. Keep your ears and your mind open.

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