The word “special” has many different meanings and brings to mind a plethora of connotations. It has been used as an affectionate term to describe how a person feels towards another person. Webster’s defines special as ‘distinguished by some unusual quality’. Being the mother of a child with special needs creates a world of new meanings.

My daughter Dawn is Special because of her unusual quality of happiness and not just her intellectual differences. She struggles with so many things; speech, her weight, medicines but through all of it she still smiles. It takes a lot to make her cry. When I told her that mommy and daddy weren’t going to be married anymore or live together she just commented, “that’s sad” but didn’t cry.

As a baby she may have cried when hungry and only a handful of times in pain. Her tolerance for pain is abnormally high so if she says she hurts, she hurts!

I have only ever spanked her once. When she was about three or four, pre-diagnosis. We were in the grocery store, a minefield of potential catastrophes for any parent with a child who has special needs. I added an extra half hour for those outings. There are potty stops, drink breaks clean up hazards, “no” constantly and then the frequent pauses to apologize to strangers. Dawn loved to talk to people, even if that meant being inappropriate, like telling a man he’s fat or a lady she’s old. But, on this day no one responded to her. That set off a maelstrom of emotion in Dawn. She began to grab things from the shelves, she squeezed the bread to death but when she took my purse and tossed it on top of the eggs, that was my last nerve. I had warned her that if she didn’t behave I would take her to the restroom for a spanking. She didn’t believe me. I took her out of the buggy and into a stall, exposed one cheek of her butt, I swatted her pulled up her pants and turned her around. The look on her face nearly killed me. I knew instantly that I had made a wrong discipline choice. Her eyes swelled she looked confused I grabbed her up in my arms and cried. She patted my back as if she had hurt me. I told her I would never spank her again and that I expected her to behave in the grocery store so we could go home and do the things we enjoyed, like cartoons and puzzles.

I learned what I needed to do for her to make things easier on us both in public situations. We’ve used ear buds connected to her favorite music, coloring/puzzle books, she even learned to om (meditate). She has carried a family photo album and dolls. As for apologies to strangers, I don’t anymore. Anyone who meets her senses that she is Special. Her heart is tender and that is what makes her smile consistent and genuine. Yes, Dawn is special but it’s because she is, at her core, happy and I am blessed to have her as my child.


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