“Hello. My name is Leslie.”
“I am a mother of a child with special needs . . . .”
Do you ever feel like this? Do you ever feel like we are all on an island where the only way to receive an admission ticket is having a child with special needs? Doesn’t really matter the diagnosis . . . . As we sit, visiting with one another and listening to the stories, we nod our heads in agreement. Yep, been there, done that!
We all have the same struggles. Financial stress. Stress on our marriages. Fatigue. Increased health issues on one or both caregivers. Depression. Isolation. We all have the same battles too!! Searching for a diagnosis. Test run on 4000 different medications, none of which seem to really help. Insurance companies. Doctors. Churches. Schools . . . oh the schools! Countless ARDs. Advocating for our loved ones with special needs. And at times, joining the elite club of those of us who have red marks on our kiddo’s school files stating, “Mom is crazy!” It just comes with the job!
But what happens when we decide to home school our child with special needs? How do we do this? How do we add this “job title” to the countless other hats we wear throughout a 24-hour period? Is there support out there? Does the home school community even see me?
The answer is a resounding YES!!! THSC sees you.
In May of 2007, I was on the Board of Texas Special Kids. Doug and Patsy Arnold, both mentors and very dear friends, had taken me under their wing. I first met the Arnolds through their website years earlier. I had a friend who had a daughter with special needs. We were seeking help on how to deal with an upcoming ARD and “stumbled” on the TSK Website. Well, more like divine intervention! The response we received from the Arnolds was so encouraging . . . and so personal!! I actually felt like they were TALKING TO ME!! Later that year, I attended the Home School Book Fair in Arlington, Texas. The event was hosted by Hearth and Home Ministries, and the Arnolds were hosting several different workshops. I attended one, simply because I knew their name! I sat on the front row, absolutely shocked at their testimony of perseverance. It was encouraging because I felt like “if they can do it, maybe I can do it!!” They knew EXACTLY what I was going through–and not because of their education or their career experiences–but because they KNEW what I was going through. They were parents of a child with special needs.
Through the years, the Arnolds helped me in my God-given calling into the world of special needs ministries. They came and trained a group of volunteers and me when we launched JOY Ministries (the special needs ministry at my church). They introduced me to a woman who has been instrumental in my development as both a woman of God and a mother of a child with special needs. They equipped me to minister to families with special needs by giving me the opportunity to work alongside them in their booth at the THSC Convention, and help them execute workshops, giving me countless hours of “on the job training” as I watched them minister to families with special needs. They also allowed me to be a part of the development and execution of the Texas Special Kids Convention in Arlington, Texas.
So, when THSC approached TSK in May of 2007, Doug and Patsy grabbed my arm and said, “This one is yours!” THSC had a small room at their Convention in The Woodlands that had become a small, impromptu ministry. There were a few dedicated volunteers with hearts for special needs who had taken it upon themselves to minister to those who didn’t fit the “cookie cutter” shape of the Children’s Program. These individuals with special needs could have simply fallen through the cracks. THSC could have said “I am so sorry, but we don’t have a place for your child.” Or, they simply could have allowed that room to become an abyss, and turned their eyes away from something God placed right under their noses! But they didn’t. They saw us!
As I walked around the Convention floor in May of 2007, I saw all of the obstacles for families with special needs: Loud noises and crowded hallways; sound systems that had feedback that would cause my daughter with Autism to melt, and melt BADLY; programming that was so structured it didn’t really allow for flapping and television talk.
But I also saw what God had provided–rooms that were not being used, volunteers committed to caring for these individuals, and an organization like THSC that was committed to ministering to ALL of its Convention participants.
And as we sat in a small office space back in Arlington, Texas, laying out for the Lamberts what it would take to actually do a special needs ministry in The Woodlands, the Special Buddies Program was conceived.
We are now entering our eighth year of the Special Buddies Program. But what is even more amazing is what God did with a small room inside the Marriott Waterways Convention Center. THSC is now the host of the Arlington Book Fair, and we will have our first convention in Arlington in May 2015. I have come full circle. I am going to be back in the place where it all started, fulfilling a call from God and a dream of the Arnolds and of mine, seeing the Special Buddies program at a second convention!
THSC has also launched the Special Needs Advocacy and Consultation program. THSC’s desire is to come alongside families who have loved ones with special needs, both those home schooling and those in the public school system. I joined the THSC Staff in June of this year as their Special Needs Consultant. The website has been completely revamped with an entire section devoted to Special Needs. THSC has created a “virtual” support group for families with special needs, and we are working to increase the resources and opportunities families can experience at our Conventions by securing special needs speakers and exhibitors. THSC is also working with other Conventions across the nation, helping them to implement their own special needs ministry at their events.
God is doing a mighty work through THSC! So if you ever find yourself asking THSC, “Do You See Me?”, find comfort friends . . . because the answer is YES!
THSC sees you!