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You must be special

flowers special needsI used to get very frustrated with people who would say “God must think you’re special…” because I am a parent of kids with what we call “special needs” – or perhaps “above average needs”.

When people would say we were “special” it often felt like others were assuming I could do more than “normal” people. It was almost as if they felt I should be encouraged to continue making an exceptional, herculean effort just to survive, but we also had to avoid any distasteful mention of the realities of uneven resources, a lack of support, greed, hording and unfairly distributed responsibilities.

In reality, there is no “message” that I’m special coming from anywhere. I am just like everyone else – and that makes other people very uncomfortable.

Like most parents of kids with special needs I simply do not have everything I need to meet every single one of my family’s needs. My family learned to survive by prioritizing our needs to meet the most urgent first… and simply letting the rest go.

So why would there be a need to send me or any other parent of special needs children a “message” to do even more with less?

The reality is – if there is any “message” being sent –  it isn’t to us.

When a friend or family member is struggling with inadequate resources, the “message” is for their friends and family to offer support. Humans  are communal animals, and we evolved to share our resources and our burdens and challenges with our groups. We all transition in and out of times of need and times of plenty in our lives – we need to balance every valley of need with a wave of resources, and every wave of plenty with a need – so that our rocky seas average out to give us all a fairly pleasant journey.

When someone is over-burdened everyone else is being given the opportunity for sharing and charity and concrete actions that prove the empathy and compassion that they claim to feel. Feelings of support have very little value and rarely change anything – but actions of support can change the world. Everyone in a healthy community or a healthy family is required to make an effort – not to just have feelings.

If those who are overburdened can rise to the challenge of trying to meet the needs of their families with inadequate resources, why can’t those with more fortunate circumstances  rise to the challenge of helping others with their excessive resources?

Nobody should be forced to help, of course, but we need to stop pretending that someone else having “feelings” provides anything useful to families in need. If help is what you want to provide – then action is required.

My advice – if you’re hearing a “message” about a family struggling with an unusual burden – stop congratulating them on being less fortunate but “brave” or “special” – and start congratulating yourself on receiving the perfect opportunity to prove your compassion and generosity in a tangible, effective and useful way.

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