When Your Child Has Special Needs
It was the fifth trip upstairs in an hour, and my frustration was at its bursting point.
“Where are you going, Seth?” I asked my fifth-grade son.
“To the bathroom,” he replied.
“You were just up there!” I said, but he had already darted upstairs.
I turned my attention to my other three children who were being homeschooled in our basement classroom. My husband and I had both given up our teaching jobs in preparation for our move to Russia in January. He was substituting and I was home- schooling our four children. Our support had come in steadily until November when everything seemed to come to a halt. Our teammates were unable to find housing for us, and things just did not seem to be coming together. So now at the end of January, we were still stateside.
My son came back downstairs and lay on the spare bed. My frustration slowly melted into fear. What if…? I dismissed the thought quickly. It was Monday, which meant the kids had gymnastics, and even during that class, Seth left to use the bathroom. I related the day’s events to my husband and shared my concern with him. Diabetes ran on both sides of our families. I got out my glucometer and did a blood test on Seth: 497! (Normal blood glucose levels are 70-125.) That could not be right, I thought, so we repeated the test.
Our worst fears were confirmed. Seth was hospitalized for several days while we had a crash course on diabetes, its management, and giving shots. We were sure that this would close the door to Russia, but as we walked this new road God walked with us.
He provided for our every need. First, Jim had been hired as a long term substitute while a friend from church took maternity leave. This position provided good insurance that covered the best pediatric diabetic center in the country, which in God’s providence was located right near us. Then we found out that the school in Russia to which we were going had a full-time nurse; she did a lot of research for us and found an endocrinologist there. She also acted as Seth’s advocate to both our mission agency and Seth’s teachers. And we were able to get six months of diabetic training before arriving on the field in August.
Yes, God did provide for us, but the road was still bumpy and full of potholes. Seth was entering junior high at a new school, trying to make new friends, and feeling very different. He hid the fact that he had diabetes from his classmates for the first couple months, but then he began getting invitations for parties and sleepovers. He now gives himself his own shots and even lets his friends help occasionally.
There are other emotional issues involved. There is no vacation from diabetes! Seth gets at least four shots a day and pricks his finger for a blood test six or more times. He can eat some sugar, but it is limited. Last year on his birthday he just wanted to forget about diabetes for one day, but he could not without serious consequences. The first word we had to learn in Russian was carbohydrates because we have to calculate them for every meal.
As a teacher, I meet many global worker families including some who have kids with special needs. Some have severe food allergies, learning disabilities, or issues related to adoptions. Families who come prepared tend to fare better; here are some ways to improve your ability to meet these challenges.
These are some of the questions that we had to answer before coming:
- Can you get the medical /educational support that your child needs?
- Is there a school set up to meet your needs?
- If you are homeschooling, how will you meet the special educational needs of your child?
- Is there a specialist (an endocrinologist for us) who will be willing to take your child as a patient?
Give grace to your child.
- We have planned cheating. These are times when we give Seth a sugary treat that he should not have—this helps keep him from cheating behind our back. If your child has a learning disability, find ways to make it easier for him or her, like listening to a book on tape instead of reading the story. They need breaks from the stress too.
Take time out regularly!
- It is important to de-stress. If your cup is empty, you have nothing to give.
- Make date nights a priority. This is draining on your marriage, so take time to communicate with your spouse about your needs and how things are going.
We have been in Russia for two and a half years now. Seth has never had a medical emergency, and we have been pleased with his medical care here. We are so thankful that Seth’s special needs did not keep us from coming to Russia, and we are grateful for the insight of our organization that helped us to come prepared.
When my husband and I got married, we chose Jeremiah 29:11 as our life verse:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I knew that God had good plans for us, but I was worried that it might not be the same as MY good plans. There have been times when Seth was very angry at God for letting him get diabetes. We tried to ‘fix’ it for him, but we were unable to. All we could do was pray that Seth would struggle through this and come out with a faith that was stronger and not bitter toward God. Because his struggle is not over, it is a daily reminder for me to pray for all my kids. We still learn, and we still struggle, but through it all, we lean on Him and trust. Although the road is not always easy, hopefully, our faith will grow and we can reach out to help others along that road as well.