What does ‘special needs’ look like?

Take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Perhaps you saw this article whip through your facebook feed this week? Emily Colson took her son to a movie, and her son panicked, and the crowd applauded as they left. The comments are full of heartache and pragmatism, sorrow  and shoulder shrugs. 

It’s a difficult story for many reasons. Maybe because I expect better of grown ups. Maybe because I fear the same happening to me. Maybe because I have been every character.

I have been the jeering crowd and I have been the obviously wounded. I have been the parent in agony and I have been the silent condemner. I have been them all except the One who sees perfection before performance and beauty from ashes.

The reality is, we all walk with scars.


Ry’s special needs are diagnosed but invisible. She has no syndrome that explains itself silently to questioning eyes during episodes. Lord knows, literally, that some things would be easier if it were more obvious. On good days, we are a beautiful family. On normal days, we are a beautiful family with a child who struggles to keep it together. On any day, “that child” could be any one of my three children- or all of them.

Do we need a label to warrant grace? To deserve kindness? To receive love?

I am weary of the line in the sand reading “special needs.”

If we sit in a movie theater, chances are we sit near a veteran who is trembling from the larger than life gun blasts exploding in the previews. But it’s dark and we can’t see him taking deep breaths.

If we sit in a movie theater, chances are Ry sits near a veteran who’s sitting near a single mom. She will spend the hours in the dark with tears streaming down her face when the on-screen love leaves because she, herself, walked away years ago but the hurt is still raw. It’s dark in there… and we can’t see her.

Near them, a man with a cane who needs extra time to sit down. Next to him, a child incapable of being an adult. And next to that child, an adult who has forgotten what it’s like to be a child. We observers see nothing until the cup overflows.

Tread lightly.

My special needs are invisible. So are yours. And, so are the person’s next to you.

Should you find yourself taking shelter in a crowd throwing stones, I beg you to still your hands. Bite your tongue. Close your eyes. Tomorrow, it will be you on display in an awkward moment and there may be no one to explain or willing to understand.

I am desperate to teach my children that there is not one person walking this earth without a hole in their heart. Every single one of us is aching to simply be loved. Some days, it’s glorious and full of sunshine and easy. Other days, it’s a battle to walk straight with the invisible weight of the world on your shoulders. But most days… MOST DAYS… you are basically fine.

Someone around you, near you, next to you… some one obviously or secretly or on a thin line in between the two… someone is not basically fine.

Do you see the signs? Invisible signs all around you read, identify, and explain:

My father left me.

I can’t do math.

I’m in a dangerous marriage.

My nerves are on fire.

My voice doesn’t work like yours.

I hate the way I look.

I’ve lost 4 children.

We can’t pay our bills.

Be you marked and obviously bruised or a quiet soldier, be kind. And if you cannot be of help, simply be quiet. And in that quiet, pray.

Pray to understand what it is to be loved by a crowd and then crucified by the same. Pray for healing of your own needs and to be a healer of others’. Pray for a raw heart and a gentle smile. Just pray.

Pray and be changed for the good.


About texasnorth

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It's home to 5 chickens, 25 longhorn cattle, a coonhound (Banjo), a bloodhound (Hank), 2 barn cats, a husband, and 3 ridiculously funny children. The mom of this zoo has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. View all posts by texasnorth

18 responses to “What does ‘special needs’ look like?

  • Missy

    Yes. I need more of this raw quiet in and around me. Beautiful, friend.

  • Chelsey Meek Carr

    By far, this is one of my favorite posts and favorite photographs of you. It reminds me of Dorothea Lange’s subject in *Migrant Mother: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Owens_Thompson .*

  • petejessnewland

    Yes. Beautiful!

  • Amy B.

    This is beautiful. Like you, I think I felt both outraged and embarrassed when I read Colson’s post – unsure of where I would have been in the crowd. I feel like the greatest gift of the two back-to-back miscarriages we suffered a few years ago was the awareness that you just never know what’s going on in someone else’s life – what secret pain or disappointment they are bearing as they sack your groceries or deliver your mail – so just be kind; treat everyone with dignity. You might just be the only smile they get all day.

  • Diane W. Bailey

    YOu are so amazing to me!
    The depth of your compassion, for your child and for us to understand– You explain this to the rest of us. My dad worked with mental and physically handicapped when I was growing up. I learned to love them even though I didn’t always understand. There is still a healthy soul inside who wants to be loved and fit in just like everyone who has the label of “normal”…whatever THAT is. I love you, Sister!

  • Carley

    Thank you for this.

  • Jessica Stinson

    I so needed this message today. Thank you for sharing that beautiful heart of yours. I’m ALWAYS humbled and amazed at how God uses our soft spots, the ones we’re so protective of, to reach others. One of Holley Gerth’s messages says, “Not everyone could do what she did. Not everyone could handle things the way she could. She wondered sometimes if she was doing okay… while everyone else was just watching in wonder.” That is me getting glimpses of your amazing heart. Love you, my friend!

  • Penny

    Katie this is one of your best yet!! Creative contrasts, vivid imagery, I could feel the emotion of your work. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. This gives me something to chew on for the week.

  • CLC Network

    Thank you for so eloquently stating that each person – regardless of any labels they may have – has areas where they need the help or gifts of others. In turn, each person has strengths others need them to contribute. A great reminder not to judge by outward appearances and to accept each as a child of God.

  • Aunt Regina

    Great post and a great pic of you..

  • seespeakhearmama

    What a beautiful cry for compassion. I hear you. I feel you. Bless you Katie!

  • Miriam

    YOU, Katie!!! You are beautiful!!!!

  • Melinda

    Your words, your bravery, & your heart are POWERFUL – thank you for sharing – from one momma of an amazing 6 year old daughter to another!

  • Monica

    Your insight is beautiful.

  • Rebekah

    I heard this statement a long time ago and it rings truer and truer as I gain life experience: everyone you meet is fighting a battle.
    It makes me stop and think. Because it couldn’t be more true.
    Beautiful post. Beautiful photo. 🙂

  • Margie

    (Sharp intake of breath.) Oh. My. Katie. I want to read this again and again. Goodness gracious, this is truth.

  • Kimberly Letavish

    Kate I am so blessed to know you. Your words touch my soul in so many ways that are unexplainable! Your daughter has touched my heart and always will! And your example and words do too!! Thank you for being you!!

  • Lisa

    So beautifully written. ❤️

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