Focusing on Strengths in the Face of Challenges

So often when we talk about children with special needs, cognitive or physical, we focus on the challenges that these diagnoses present. Whether your child’s challenges are related to learning or to walking or to relating to the world, the stress of making sure that they have what they need to grow and succeed can be overwhelming. It can be easy to lose sight, especially for people who might not have the chance to be with your child day-to-day, of the positives that these challenges can bring to the people that they are growing to become.

This month, then, we will accentuate the positive. Here are some insights about five kids from their parents, talking about what these challenges bring out in their children. In the end, regardless of whatever your child might face in life, they are still your child and they bring so much more to the world around them.

Strengths of the Special Needs Child


“An Amazing Memory”

Autism has given Ellen an amazing memory! She can hear or see something once or twice, and she’ll never forget it. This “something” needs to be concrete – like a number, pattern, or song. Because of her fixation on such “somethings,” she develops this passionate love for her interests and is thrilled to share them with anyone who will listen! Right now, it’s science. The mere mention of volcanoes, outer space, or animals will produce the biggest smile on the sweetest face. I can’t wait to see what passion will speak to her soul.

– Jane Smith, Ellen (Autism & ADHD)

“His Challenges Are Not Outside of the Norm”

I don’t really see challenges for Kellan that are outside of the norm for every other kid. I’m not saying I blindly sit back and don’t acknowledge that some things are and will be harder for him to accomplish, I’m saying that I focus more on what he can do, not what he can’t. I think society puts more limitations on him than I do, simply based on his diagnosis, I expect him to be potty trained-it’s frustrating that he’s not yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be. I expect him to graduate from high school, I expect him to go to college or vocational school, whatever he wants. I expect him to live independently. These are all things are not it if the reach of reality for him. He will get there. But he’ll get there on his terms and his timetable, not anyone else’s.


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– Melanie Lowe, Kellan (Down Syndrome)

“He Truly Loves People”

So many people ask and always want to talk about James’ “diagnosis” but rarely do they look beyond the physical and see the amazing kid James is.

James has a sensitivity that I have never experienced before. He has a way of knowing how to make people smile or feel comforted. He never meets a stranger and everywhere we go, he asks everyone for a hug or tells them a joke. He sees past a person’s physical traits, clothes, race, class, anything that some others might use to judge another person. James only sees a new friend. I have watched him bring grown men to tears in a grocery store line because they needed that sweet hug at that moment. James just seems to know when people need him. I used to find myself apologizing for his “over friendliness”, but I have learned that God has gifted James with this ability to give joy. Not because he is a “disabled kid” that doesn’t understand boundaries, but because he truly loves people. He remembers names and faces. He remembers what jokes or foods they like. He knows how to bring life and laughter with him. He has taught me how to enjoy and be present in the moment. He has taught others how to see past the physical and get to know him for the funny and sensitive person he is.

– MaryEllen Pollard, James (Cerebral Palsy)


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“Perseverance Really Does Pay Off”

Being in the world with ADD and learning disabilities has definitely influenced my son positively, and helps him develop a unique perspective and deep sense of empathy towards others. It hasn’t been easy for him to navigate his schoolwork with dyscalculia and dysgraphia, but it has resulted in some serious problem-solving skills that have spilled over into other parts of his life. He can find so many creative ways to interpret a scenario – and I think that’s a direct result of the ADD. His broad vision and approach to life makes him interested in so many different things, and he asks the best questions when seeing something new for the first time. My son has also discovered through his struggle – and in a way I think some kids don’t get to experience at an early age – that perseverance and hard work really does pay off.

– Stephenie Walker, Finn (Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, ADD)

“He Is a Whole Person – Not Just a Diagnosis”

As a parent of a child on the spectrum it’s easy to look at the things that he’s not doing compared to what his brother does. It’s easy to find points of anxiety and stress about the future because we still have so many unknowns. Then I remember that every parent experiences this in one way or another. I blink and I look at him again and I see the big smile that he gives me when he sits next to me and says “Mommy, I love you”; for a child who didn’t start talking until he was well past two years old, every moment like that feels like a validation of all of the hard work he’s put in for the majority of his life. I see him at school and how every one of his teachers and classmates love him because he’s kind and hardworking and loving. I see him out and about and how he desperately wants to talk to and play with kids his age and he tries still, even when others might be discouraged.

I see Jackson as a child who is capable of so much, but what that is cannot be defined by the data that the schools and other helpers we have collect. He’s a dynamic kid, always changing, always evolving. He is growing up and, sure, the challenges he faces change and evolve with him, but they don’t define him. He is a whole person, not just a diagnosis. He is loving, smiling, easy-going, and passionate. Autism is just one piece of who he is and anyone who sits down with him for a few minutes will see the beautiful soul that we see day in and day out.

He is a child, plain and simple. He is our child, made of my husband and myself, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for him.


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– Jennifer Kelly, Jackson (Autism)

We would love to hear from you in our comments. If you have a child with special needs or work with children with special needs, give their positives a shout-out! What do their challenges bring out in them? Let’s show the world that every child might have challenges, but, while those challenges differ, they also bring out the beautiful in each of them.

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Too many times parents and educators focus on the struggle, but let's take a long look at their strengths.