Site hosted by Build your free website today!


Loving Children With Special Needs

This is an article I wrote which was published in “Gentle Spirit” in 1991

 I am the mother of twenty-six children. The busy, noisy happiness of a big family is lovely and normal to me. My children enjoy each other a great deal, and that is wonderful to see.

 My children range in age from three through twenty-nine. Nineteen of my children are still comfortably at home with me in our eighteen bedroom house. I did not give birth to them all. My marriage dissolved unexpectedly when I was pregnant with my third child, at age twenty-one. I thought that was the end of my lifelong dream of a large family. (My concept of a large family was nine children!)

 The Lord had other plans. It was a blessing directly from His loving heart that I should spend the next nineteen years (so far) adopting children with disabilities as a single mother.

 I home school my youngest school-age children. We are in our eighth year now and loving it more each year.

 Of course, the main reason, besides the Lord's goodness, that this works so well is that I require my children to obey and respect me, and in turn, I love and respect them. I care about their needs, wishes, and desires. It is neither possible nor advisable to give a child everything they want. But every child needs someone to listen, and be interested in their thoughts. Most of my children can either walk or get around well in wheelchairs. Though most are mentally retarded, they are very able members of our family. A wonderful friend, Arloa, whom the Lord brought to me four years ago with her own adopted, disabled children, does all the cooking. She and her children moved into the north wing of our 18 bedroom house. Arloa takes care of my nursery children while I home school. We feed the children all together.

 In the center of our family are five children who are very different than the others. These children, like the four who have died, have such severe disabilities that they cannot sit up, crawl, eat by mouth, play, or talk. They are sweet, peaceful members of our family, and the gentle recipients of our love. There is one thing they all can do, and that is smile. I often think that if God were to give a person only one gift, a smile would be the best. I went out hunting for children like this to adopt, after adopting one without intending to. I did not have correct information on Misty, and she was a terrible shock when she came. But I grew to love her so dearly that I spent many years finding and adopting others like her. There is a part of me that loves nurturing babies, and I can love these children with a love different than other love. This love doesn’t require anything in return. Their smiles are enough. I often feel amazed that this is the love the Lord bestows on us when we may go through times of our lives when we aren't pleasing Him, and I did go through some times like this in my youth. He loves us anyway, even when we don’t give Him so much as a smile. What very pure love!

 “... the Least of These”

 The Bible says that whatever we do for the least of His, we do it for Him. I think these children must certainly qualify as the Least of His people. He loves them even more than I ever could. I love them on purpose for Him when they are sick, or occasionally difficult, and my reward must come directly from the knowledge that my Lord Jesus is smiling down at me then.

 These children give their siblings the gift of learning to love without expecting anything back.

 They are such gentle, content children. They do not know they are missing anything. It is so simple and rewarding to make them comfortable and happy and healthy. It is a ministry for the other children as well as for me to love these helpless ones. They have learned the true meaning of compassion.

 Many of my children enjoy helping me with changing diapers and sheets in the nursery. Whoever does not want this job, does other jobs instead. Katie and Starr, ages 8 and 12, both mildly mentally retarded themselves, have such warm hearts, it must please their Savior. Last week, for instance, they got together to surprise me. They took a plastic toboggan into the nursery when I was running late and got their helpless siblings up by working together, lowering each child out of bed onto the toboggan one by one and then pulling them out into the living room for the day! These children are ages 7, 8, 8, 15, and 17! They couldn't get their siblings into their wheelchairs of course, so I did that. But I was so surprised, and pleased with Katie and Starr, and they were tickled with themselves! That's the kind of gift a mother could never forget!

 My three year old, Michael, has no problems. He is one of four who have normal mental development. I have trusted the Lord to help me raise them well, even in such an unusual family. He is certainly answering my prayers. Even Michael comes to me when his helpless siblings, who we refer to jointly as our "nursery babies", need something. Today he came to me and said "Mommy, Travis wants to be turned over". I looked, and sure enough, Travis, age 7, who can move hardly a muscle by himself, was screwing up his face, getting ready to fuss, which does mean he needs to be turned over. But he hadn't made a peep yet.

 These are typical examples of the Lord's love, which is showing itself in my other children, precisely because of these special five siblings.

 Because four of my profoundly retarded children have died, we have come to understand that these children may not live to adulthood, and so we must face death square in the face and cope with the fact that the "nursery babies" might not stay with us forever. Consequently there is a great deal of talk about what our four children, as well as the five who are still living, will do in Heaven. That they will never roll over, talk, play, etc., on earth is easier to accept if you remember that in Heaven they will run, laugh, talk and play with us. They will understand things like we do then. All this talk has brought several new additions to our family to accept Jesus into their hearts and become Christians after joining our family. The subject is so natural, and soon children can see that they do want to love such a kind God and go to Heaven when they die. So the Lord worked a terribly sad part of my life into one of my most joyful experiences. What a loving God we have!

 Many of my adult children never got past Kindergarten level, in the public school system. They work on occupational skills now, and their own interests. They stay busy, and enjoy each other. One of my children with normal development joined our home school in fifth grade, and one in high school. They have both graduated. I now have four children in grade school and one in Kindergarten. We all love home schooling. It is a natural way of life for us now.

 Some tips I could give other large families who home school would be as follows:

 We stop in the middle of the day and we all fly to do a general clean-up, which only takes about 15 minutes. That makes the house pleasant at dinner time and it used to be a total disaster by then, which was discouraging. When a family works together, and stops when the timer dings, 15 minutes is not a difficult task.

 I keep a close eye on my own priorities. I respect my own limits. For me that means not too much outside pressure. With very few outside pressures, I have much more energy, patience, etc.

 We home school year-round. I keep track as I work with the children how much time they spend, and it is not hard at all to put in hundreds of hours beyond the state requirement by the end of a year without stress. I don't stop when we meet the state requirment, because learning is so much fun. I make sure to remember my daily one-on-one work with each child, by keeping a notebook near me. Each child has a page where I write a clear outline of their schoolwork for the day, and record time spent. I change the pages each weekend and file them away individually. Many of my children learn mostly occupational studies, including cooking, gardening, and housecleaning, as well as simple computer games, like phonics and math for those who can learn them, etc. Each child works in workbooks as well, and the more able also use text books. We use videos for science, both for pleasure and knowledge. We go on many and varied field trips. There is no end to our ideas. It would take an entire article just to list them. These pages keep each child's goals right in front of me every day, so there is no stress in trying to remember or wondering if I have forgotten anything. At night I go over them all, and update for the next day. We are grateful for our loving, warm and happy home. We want so much for the Lord to say to us on that last day, "well done, thou good and faithful servant!"

© 2004 Rosemary J. Gwaltney