When your child is diagnosed with special needs, often our primary focus as parents are the therapies, services, and specialists they need in order to help them develop and grow. While all of these are (very) important, I believe it is equally important to help them identify and uncover their gifts. Each child has gifts, and perhaps especially, children with special needs. As parents, I believe we have a unique and essential responsibility to help them uncover and share those gifts with others.
But how do we do this? What if our child has gifts, but we aren’t sure how to channel them? Or, what if we feel like our child’s gifts have not yet surfaced, and we worry we aren’t doing enough to help them emerge? I have wrestled with these questions over the past seven years, and want to share a few ways to help you and your special needs child uncover the precious gifts they have within them.
Identify your gifts
It is difficult to understand the importance of uncovering our children’s gifts if we don’t acknowledge and encourage our own. Whatever your unique gifts may be, notice them, embrace them, and practice them. When our children observe us living out our passions, they develop a sense of importance and purpose in living out their own.
Observe your child & embrace what interests them
One Saturday morning, we took our son to an inflatable play park. He craved sensory input, and we thought a warehouse full of bouncy houses would be right up his alley. However, when we arrived, the only item he wanted to play with was a push car. We tried to draw him away to enjoy the bouncy houses, but he wouldn’t let go of the car. Though I was initially frustrated, I eventually stepped back and watched him turn the car over and study its wheels. When we realized he wasn’t being stubborn, but rather was fascinated by how the car moved, something clicked. Soon thereafter, we introduced him to legos, tinker toys, and puzzles, anything we could find that centered on mechanics.
To this day, he loves to watch how things work and create his own towers, trains, and masterpieces out of household blocks and toys. His creativity was lying beneath the surface, we simply needed to provide him with tools to create.
Channel their passions
I believe every child has passions, and when we help our children channel what they are passionate about, their gifts emerge.
Our son started climbing at an early age – trees, rocks, walls, fences, it seemed like there wasn’t anything he couldn’t climb. As he grew, his desire to climb higher, farther, and faster grew with him. We realized that his passion for climbing required more than a play set in our backyard, and introduced him to rock climbing. Over the years, his tenacity to reach the top every time he climbs has amazed us. He has a gift for seeing each route like a puzzle, with himself as the key to solving it. The sense of pride and joy he feels when he reaches the top shines through in his smile, his laugh, and his strength.
Introduce your child to new things & listen to their ideas
If you feel like your child has gifts, but they are not surfacing, it may be time to introduce them to something new. One of the best ways to do this is through books. Read to your child about the world around them and be aware of their reactions. Make note of when something sparks their interest. When that spark ignites, give them opportunities to learn more about it or to experience it firsthand.
Secondly, listen to their response. If you introduce them to something you love, but they don’t, that’s ok! Don’t take it personally. Try again with something new and learn what interests them. You won’t see me climbing to the top of a rock climbing wall anytime soon (I’m afraid of heights!) but I will spot my son at the bottom while he reaches the top.
A final thought on introducing new things: explore music with your child. Music can unlock inner wonders you may not have known were alive and thriving within your child until you listen to a song, classical piano, or a symphony. Your child’s gift may be their ability to listen and what a gift that is! Imagine if the world had more thoughtful listeners!
Finally, be patient with your child and with yourself. Your child’s gifts may not surface overnight, and that’s ok! Stay patient and encourage them, even on the days when it feels like encouragement isn’t yielding results. Your child’s gifts are there, it may just take a little time for them to rise to the surface. Patience, kindness, and a listening ear will go a long way in helping their beautiful gifts develop and shine.