“The sun comes up, that’s me, Dawn!” My 17 year old daughter smiles as if she has just won the lottery because she knows what her name means and this is what she says when she is introduced to someone. Dawn Rae is 17, chronologically, but developmentally/intellectually she will only ever be eight. Her medical diagnosis is Moderately Mentally Retarded, but we don’t use this term because it congers up images that do not reflect the true nature of my bright and happy child. The more acceptable terms are Developmentally Delayed or Intellectually Challenged but never the “R” word. Dawn doesn’t know that she has “special needs”. She is Dawn, when the sun comes up, and she is my inner child’s best friend.

Having a child with special needs means that you will experience the same emotions as with any child only they are magnified. For instance, guilt, every parent has this feeling. Oh, I should’ve given my child this or that, sent them to a different school, etc. But, with a special needs child the guilt is enormous. When your child can’t express the level of pain they experience, and you push for them to brush their teeth better day after day until you get to the dentist for a cleaning and they discover that a filling has broken and is causing pain. Something called hyper-diligence sets in. You become the shield, the interpreter and guardian of the precious soul you have been given.

And, let me say, it is truly a blessing. Because of Dawn, I have been taken down many avenues I may otherwise not have had the strength on my own to travel. After 30 years of marriage my husband filed for a divorce. Were it not for Dawn I would not have qualified for a scholarship that led me to a self enrichment course that taught me to find my core beliefs and to build my boundaries. Were it not for my daughter I could have curled up in a fetal position and given up.

But, the sun comes up and that’s Dawn so I get up every day and expect that something great will be waiting for us.

I have been taught through this journey with Dawn and my three other daughters that as women we need each other. We are unique and we need to edify, support and share our experiences, the pain, the joy and our knowledge so that other women, if just for a moment, don’t feel alone. And can manage to find what they need when their sun comes up. Plaid for Women is that horizon and what a new dawn it will be.

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