New Priorities for Special-Needs Parents in the New School Year

With the new school year picking up speed, it’s easy for me to forget the lessons hard learned over the summer. My gracious Father has been very committed to teaching me about living in true peace, and I want to be intentional about wrestling with the moments that send peace running to the hills. Many of those moments are connected to my children and their various challenges. After an episode like the one described in 'Making Peace a Priority', I’m done for, and my recovery time seems interminable. So now the summer season is leading to school madness and I need to re-organize my intentions and priorities.

Priority One

I have to prioritize my well-being. So do you. If you crash, who’s going to take care of your child?  I know that thought already keeps you up at night so let’s channel that concern into action that can really be helpful. You need some attention. Your body (healthy food and exercise), emotions (nourishing habits, therapy and/coaching), relationships, spiritual routines and life aspirations may have been neglected as you dealt with the shock and awe of the diagnosis. Well, that was me.


My constant state of anxiety became palpable, and I began to feel stressed in situations that weren’t usually stressful to me. Plus, J. (my son, 19, ASD, SPD) and I feed off each other’s anxiety, so a tsunami of angst and distress is quite common. So grounding rhythms and healthy rest (even when sleep is hard to get) need to be a priority. And since being a super mommy has become a habit, and not necessarily a good one, I need accountability to get off the clock and be by myself, rest and recoup. I have to include trusted friends in my self-care plans or I won't follow through with them.

Elijah’s very understandable bout with despair in 1 Kings 19 makes perfect sense to me. God’s response to him is interesting, though. First some rest, then food, then some more rest, and some time to contemplate while journeying before God says, "Hey, your perspective on all this is kinda … wrong." I think Elijah needed that time before God's message could really be nourishment. What do you need to shift to give yourself some regular opportunities to rest and recoup?

What lens will you use?

My perspective and resulting conclusions are huge peace stealers. Every day, in every moment, we get to choose what we believe our children's actions mean. Johnny throws a toy, Suzie pees on the floor. Is it excessive defiance? Perseveration?  Strong, accurate gross motor movement? Imaginative play (Suzie is creating a waterfall)? As parents, we are NEVER 100% certain about the meaning of any of our children's behaviors.

Clever Boy

A few years ago, J. became fascinated by feeling the walls and edges of every room that he was in. He presses himself against the wall, running his hands and sometimes toes, into every corner and crevice. The route to any point was not the straight line for J. It was the line that covered the most detailed perimeter of the room. My mom stood in the kitchen and yelled ”J., come for your dinner!" She didn’t see him appear with his usual speed. She called again.

What she hadn't realized was that the route to the kitchen involved the edges of the table (in the opposite direction from the kitchen), around the big chair, by the book case, past the shoe rack, across the main door (very far from the kitchen) across the other shoe rack, carefully past the toy trunk and side tables, into the dining room ... until finally he was at the kitchen door. One might look at him and think he hadn't heard her, or that he was being defiant. I had the grace to reassure her that he was on his way.  Echoing in my mind was the thought How clever to know that sensory input from his eyes alone is unreliable and to be using his body to firmly establish a map of the room in is mind!

Your Beliefs

We never really know what's going on inside another person. Our children with developmental differences may be experiencing a variety of things that we don't yet understand. So, I've decided that every behavior has a reason. My lack of understanding does not immediately render the behavior wrong or invalid. I can afford to be curious and hopeful that I may understand the behavior, but more important than understanding is my willingness to truly accept the mystery that comes with living with other humans! And while dealing with that mystery, and learning about all that a particular behavior could mean, I remind myself that I get to decide on a foundational belief about my kids, and to interpret their behaviors in light of that belief. I'm trying to choose interpretations that reaffirm peace as my priority.

Some feel that this choice isn't realistic. Studies have shown that most people with a balanced sense of well being aren't realistic. Faith (Hebrews 11) isn't realistic anyway. Confining my beliefs to the truths I can figure out in my brain has not brought me much peace. My son continues to confound my natural abilities to understand, so grateful for a position anchored by faith, focussed on peace.

Your Assumptions

Assumptions are efficient. They help us arrive at conclusions and possible actions very quickly. But, with our kids, our assumptions can be quite far off the mark, disturbing both our peace and the peace of our kids. Let’s be careful what we assume about the behavior that we are seeing.

Of course, this is really hard to do while tired, so it's back to Priority One.


Let's check in with each other about this:

  1. Prioritize your physical, emotional, spiritual health and strength, to build your reserves to peacefully and powerfully engage with your parenting journey
  2. Decide how you will interpret your child's challenging behaviors. the next time your child does something you don't understand, choose an interpretation that reaffirms peace as your priority.
Then the peace of God will guard your heart and mind … (Philippians 4:9)