A monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.
This past long weekend I was in the fairest Cape for a family wedding, and what a joyous occasion it was. We had planned our break away so that we could also spend a few days in Cape Town and surrounds, before and after the nuptials, catching up with family and friends.
In truth, this was a faith expedition for us and our son. For while the breathtaking scenery and the occasion itself promised wonderful days, it had all the makings of an emotionally stressful time – varied locations and a lot of time with people, just chatting and eating, usually with no other children around.
Ordinarily, I would jump at the chance to get away and just “kuier” but I had to consider how my son would react and adapt (or not) to being at a new location and meeting people he hardly knows or doesn’t know at all – over and over again. You see, my son, who is seven years old, has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) and social anxiety disorder, and, in addition, sensory integration dysfunction (or sensory processing disorder). Yes, it’s a mouthful. I know. And while I don’t like to label him as having “this” or “that”, giving what he deals with everyday a name does help to focus our time and energy on what is needed in order to assist him in leading a fulfilled and purpose-driven life. This is the goal of all our interventions.
Our decision as parents
In short, the ADHD, amongst others, causes our son to be lethargic and slow to respond to instructions. It also interferes with his sleeping patterns. Then there is the incessant talking, the impatience and the impulsiveness, as well as the tantrums. We are forced to medicate during school but choose to not do so outside of the learning environment, unless absolutely necessary. In other words, generally speaking, he does not receive the drug on weekends or during school holidays. This is a decision we have taken as parents. Although he is more compliant and better behaved under the drug’s influence, we prefer to experience him as he really is, which is an engaging individual who is, for the most part, fun to be around.
The social anxiety aspect provides its own set of challenges. Not the least of which is resistance to visiting new places and meeting new people. It causes our son to behave awkwardly, and avoid interaction with others, to the point of saying hurtful things in order to push them away. Even those he knows have to ‘break the ice’ when meeting him again after an interval of only a few days. There is, of course, a pill for this as well, which we duly administer on a daily basis. If I am honest, I would have to say that currently, I can live without my son taking medication for ADHD but life is difficult when he does not receive the anxiety medication. He becomes very fearful and clingy, and even going to the bathroom alone is not possible for him.
Then there is the sensory aspect. For those who are not familiar with this, it may be described as a condition in which the brain has difficulty in receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. It has far reaching consequences. For example, where a child experiences inadequate vestibular processing, he or she will have difficulty with balance and knowing where his or her body is in space – and it often manifests itself by a reluctance to sit on the toilet. For those with taste processing challenges, certain tastes and even textures are avoided, leaving the child with a very limited palate and therefore also a restricted menu – often soft, not chewy foods like bread, bread and, much to my dismay, more bread.
But our son is not slow in his thinking nor in his ability. On the contrary, he was able to recognise colours at the age of 2, and could also count to 20 at that age. He taught himself to read when he was just 5 years old. As a result, we walk a tightrope as parents of, on the one hand, needing to stimulate him academically while on the other, trying to mitigate his challenges. All the while cautiously administering medication and simultaneously praying for his complete healing and restoration.
Our journey to this point has been one of recognising that ‘something’ is not quite as it should be, and then finding the strength, the courage, the time and the resources to address the issue. It has also been one of trial and error in finding solutions and making compromises that work for us as a family. But, as you might expect, not all of our friends and family are always ‘on the same page’. There are the inevitable opinions, whether verbally expressed or not, ranging from “there is no problem that a good dose of discipline can’t solve“ to “perhaps you shouldn’t be so …, you are causing your child to behave in this way“. The key here, however, is to ‘take the meat and leave the bones’. People usually mean well, they just don’t know what to say or what to do to help. If they haven’t lived it, they can’t know. So at times it can be a frustrating and lonely path to tread. But this is where the friendship of parents with special needs children is invaluable. They know. They understand. We can encourage one another. We can celebrate the smallest of victories with one another.
In the event, our weekend went smoothly, and, for the most part, without a hiccup. It is a testimony about me and how far I have come in this journey as much as it is about our child taking a huge step towards overcoming his fears and relating normally to others. I have grown. I have become more comfortable in parenting my special gift of a child with all of his quirkiness and less concerned about what others think about my parenting ability in the face of constant challenge. Yes, we are still learning, trying out different approaches and regimens to find the best fit for us as a family, and that is just fine. We simply celebrate the victories and learn from our setbacks.
What I have learned is that there are no quick fixes outside of a miracle of God and that His mercies are indeed new every morning. Each day I am given a new opportunity to try again and do better. To rise up in faith in the face of yesterday’s defeat. To hope against all hope. I also draw comfort from the fact that we have seen progress that medication and countless hours of therapy cannot explain. And we continue to trust God for more. For our goal as parents is to see our child thrive and become the best version of himself, growing more independent day by day and able to make his own unique yet significant mark in this world.