Don't Fear the Future: Helping Your Children With Special Needs Reach Their Potential

Illustration of a boy in a hot air balloon. His mother positioned below is tying the balloon ropes to her body.
Luke Flowers

Does anything tie a parent's stomach in knots like releasing children with special needs into adulthood? Can they hold a job, live on their own someday, maybe even get married and start a family?

More to the point, will our kids be OK without us? And how do we, as parents, empower them to reach their full potential? Isn't that what every parent wants for his or her child?

The overwhelming grief that poured over me when my newborn son was diagnosed with a severe bleeding disorder had mostly to do with the future. There was the death of dreams and the fear of what might happen to him. The discouraging comments from others leveled me: "He will never play sports." "He'll go broke paying for health care." The wet blanket threatened to suffocate me.

When our youngest was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, I found myself with even worse angst. I could not imagine her ever learning to read and write or exercising self-control. With all of her wild behaviors, I sometimes wondered if I would someday be visiting her in a jail cell.

Grief fell afresh every time I looked to the future. Would my son die a premature death? Could my daughter ever find employment?

Thank God that my despair was unwarranted. There has never been a better time in history for children with disabilities to be alive. The treatment and therapy options today are better than ever, and we have a host of experts willing to problem-solve with us.

Not all children, of course, will make significant advances. A child with more profound cognitive delays, behavioral difficulties or lack of speech might have limited educational or career options. I know parents whose children will likely never leave home or may someday live in a group home. Nevertheless, those parents are exploring all the opportunities available to their children.

While frustrations and fears might persist, God gives us hope. Resting in the assurance of God's love — knowing that our Father cares more about our kids than we ever could — helps us relinquish control and give our children room to spread their wings. We usher each child closer to the threshold of ability so he or she will enter adulthood as best equipped as possible.

Though not all kids with special needs can achieve independence, we can still do what parents do best: cheer them on to achieve their full potential.

Barbara Dittrich is a speaker, blogger and mother of three.
This article first appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "What Does the Future Hold?" If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2017 by Barbara Dittrich. Used by permission.