“Danielle is nonverbal and doesn’t know how to let people know what pain she is experiencing.”
These the words of David and Mercedes Rizzo, co-authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child. Husband and wife, and parents to four children, they describe their third child and one of the many challenges she faces as a result of her diagnosis of autism.
As the parent of a child with special needs myself, I found these words to beautifully encompass the place many, if not all, parents of children with special needs find themselves: not knowing how to verbalize the pain they are feeling. Whether it is the shock of receiving the diagnosis, the fear of not knowing what the future holds, or the exhaustion of making it over one hurdle just to find yourself at the bottom of a mountain, it is so hard to describe the complex emotions of raising a child with special needs.
With humility, transparency and grace, David and Mercedes have done just that. I have always felt that one of the most powerful gifts one of God’s children can give another is that of relation: being able to look someone in the eyes or place just the right words on a page to let someone know you intimately understand what they are going through. God never meant for His children to walk this journey alone nor carry the full weight of the cross on their shoulders. I can assure you, if your life has been touched by a child with special needs, with each chapter you finish, the weight of your personal cross will feel that much lighter.
This book will help parents, siblings and extended family members of children with special needs put words to your prayers and let God know just how much you need His presence in the messy and how thankful you are for the steadfastness of His grace. Thank you to David and Mercedes for starting our conversation with God.
An Interview With the Authors:
1) As parents of children with special needs, it quickly becomes clear that we, within our human limitations, are unable to fully protect our children or be one step ahead of them and their unpredictable behavior at all times. How has your parenting of Danielle changed or affected your parenting of your other children?
As parents of four children it has always been difficult to strike a balance of giving our time among them equally. Add to that a child with a disability and the balance is really off. We always felt that in any given hour our daughter Danielle was getting 45 minutes of our time out of necessity and our other 3 kids were splitting the remaining 15. We have worked hard on shifting the balance more equally. At first we were more lenient on Danielle. One time our son, Colin became upset when he was told to clean up a mess that he had made and he responded that Danielle can do anything she wants and never has a consequence. That interaction with him shifted our focus and made us really work hard to give Danielle consequences that were appropriate to her abilities. Also, we did get to the point when we realized what you say: that we are limited in our ability to guard against every possible danger or behavior, especially when Danielle was younger and more unpredictable than she is now. We learned that you need to do what you can do but trust the outcome to God. That can become a focus of prayer when you are confronting the issue of safety.
2) If you had to choose one word to describe the most important lesson God has taught you through the gift of your daughter, Danielle, what would that one word be?
Trust. Having a child with special needs was something we never anticipated or planned on. It is life-altering. You cannot get through it without trust in God that He will help you and guide you on your special-needs parenting journey. We learned to let God’s plan for our family’s life unfold and trust that where we were at any given time was in keeping with God’s plan. We learned to find opportunities to take what was happening in our lives as parents of a child with a severe disability and allow it to percolate through us to become prayers to process, make sense and get through whatever was happening. This trust also helped us learn to celebrate the gift of our children.
3) How important do you think it is for parents who receive a diagnosis for their child to fully come to terms with their disappointment before they can empty their hearts of their expectations and open it to God to fill it with His perfect plan?
Everyone comes to terms with this at their own pace. We don’t think there is any special timeline for acceptance For us it was a slow process. Eventually you begin to see God’s grace in this and come to rely on Him daily. There was for us a certain sense of grief at the loss of the Danielle we had imagined she’d be. Prayer provided the space to confront and accept this grief, and allow it to turn into a deep appreciation that Danielle was exactly who God wanted her to be.
4) It’s easy to see how parenting a child with special needs is different than raising a typically developing child. In what ways have you learned that it is much the same?
You want the same things for all your children. You want them to be happy and healthy. You want them to be educated and know God and his love for them. You learn that you have to balance your time between each as best you can given the circumstances.
5) What faith lessons have Danielle’s siblings learned as a result of her special needs that they wouldn’t have learned with a typically developing sister?
We asked our children to answer this question. They all had the same response. They feel that they are much more patient with people with disabilities and understanding of them. They all said that even though Danielle might take a while to learn something, if you are patient with her, she might just surprise you and learn to do something you didn’t think she would learn to do.
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Copyright 2018 Nicole Johnson