Seeing the gifts in special needs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow has a special needs child or adult

come into your life?

For most of us, it’s not by choice.

For some it’s the prenatal discovery of an extra chromosome, for others the shocking diagnosis of a child’s autism.

A few have watched a tragic accident transform their loved one, while others have encountered unexpected issues after adopting.

Some are simply trying to relate to the non-verbal child in Sunday school or the wheel-chair-bound neighbor next-door.

Whatever your situation, it’s not easy. It’s a whole new world.

Like most people, I did not walk into this world on purpose. I would never have picked myself as the right mom for a child with special needs. But God knew I needed to be that mom.

When we chose to adopt our twins from Haiti, the only knowledge we had was second-hand. We saw our normal-looking boys pictured online, learned as much as we could about them, and after bathing the decision in prayer, decided to make them a part of our family. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

It was adoption and we had a choice once we knew — yes, but even when we technically could have backed out, God confirmed in our hearts that it was in reality His choice for us.

In the dark heat, only hours after entering the country that first time in 2001, we were introduced to our sons. Justin seemed mortified to meet us. In a photo of that incredible moment, I was the picture of joy and he of abject misery. But his only issue was shyness. As for Jaden, well, Jaden gave the phrase “out of control” deep new meaning. We had known he had a lazy eye, but we hadn’t known about his crippled left arm, nor — slightly more significantly — his special needs. After he’d been in Jarod’s arms for an entire two seconds, we knew we were destined for exhaustion. If I’d ever met a child whose behavior could accurately be compared to the infamous “Taz” of the Looney Tunes world, this was he.

(From Chapter 1 of In a Sun-Scorched Land, my memoir-in-progress)

Jaden, now 14, has a degree of autism, cerebral palsy, regular seizures, and severe developmental delays, due to brain damage from a traumatic birth.

Jarod and I have had to answer a lot of questions from the rest of our kids about why God allowed Jaden to be born with all of these problems.

I don’t know why.

I do know that because of sin, our world is broken. Life isn’t what it was originally meant to be.

When I see another seizure start — when Jaden topples like a tree, scrapes his head and elbows yet again, and then returns to “normal,” to utter the same phrase he’s repeated all week, “Wagon pretty!,” my heart hurts for him.

I long for the day on the other side of eternity that his pain and limitations will be shaken off for good.Jaden


But, I also am deeply grateful for the beauty that God brings out of brokenness in special needs children and friends.

I love dropping Jaden off at his middle school and being greeted by the other kids that belong in his “Exceptional Students” class.

One girl hugs me as if I’m her long-lost mother.

A tall, handsome boy, to whom I’ve never been introduced, waves and smiles like we’ve been best friends forever.

And the dark-haired boy with peach fuzz on his upper lip lights up and bellows, “Hi Jaden’s mom!”

When I leave them, I walk past all the “normal” students far too absorbed in their iPhones and friends to give me a second glance or a smile.

It is the ESE kids that leave me full of joy and life.

Their exuberance and love are gifts from God, reflections of His own nature.

They bring my attention back to what’s real; what truly matters.

Jaden forces us to slow down and enjoy the little things.

When dirty dishes line the kitchen counter and there are about thirty-seven things left on my to-do list in the two hours before bedtime, Jaden asks me to ride bike with him. Watching the sunset as we pedal along reminds me that a quality life is not defined by a completed list.

When he gleefully hands his plastic piggy bank to the cashier at Walgreens to pay for his baby toy, I see her heart melt a little, and I know the people standing in line behind us are forced to think about life a little differently.

Of course one of the most beautiful things Jaden does is help the rest of us to become less selfish, more Christ-like.

We’re called on countless times each day to pause our “important task” and give Jaden yet another high-five or fist pound. We are learning to build him up by cheering him on each night when he sings his bedtime song. We let him pull us by the hand to see the prized toy displayed on his unmade bed and act like it’s the most incredible thing we ever saw, even though he showed it to us five minutes ago.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve rolled our eyes, groaned, and giggled plenty over the years at his obsessions and demands. How deeply I regret my frustrated sighs that he has taken to mimicking!

But as Jaden himself has matured, and become quite a bit less chaotic than the “Taz” he used to be, we too have been shaped and refined by him.

Jaden is a gift.


Special needs are not easy to deal with. But they are a gift.

Receive God’s gift to you, in whatever form, with an open heart and be ready for the blessings to pour out.


I’d like to dedicate this blog to my precious neighbors who are raising their three autistic children with the grace and joy of Jesus. You are a blessing to all who know you.


*If you are on the sidelines, watching a friend raise a special needs child, here is a great article by Gillian Marchenko: 10 Special Needs of Special Needs Parents
For further encouragement, visit Gillian Marchenko’s website:



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6 thoughts on “Seeing the gifts in special needs

  1. Rene' Genau April 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm Reply

    Thank you Jennifer. I also read the pointers from Gillian Marchenko. Very good information to know. God’s Blessings, Rene’

  2. Andrea April 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm Reply

    Beautifully written Jen. Thanks for the reminders and seeing the gifts in everything. I loved the excerpt from your book. I CAN’T WAIT to read the WHOLE thing! .You have a gift. And I will love celebrating with you when Jaden’s limitations are forever washed away one day 🙂 As for now, keep up the good work my friend. You are doing a great job! Have you heard of the song “Fingertips and Noses?” Reminds me of your post…if you can get past the 80’s sound, you’ll LOVE the words 🙂 Andrea

    • Jennifer Ebenhack April 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm Reply

      Thank you so much, Andrea! You are incredibly encouraging! I’ll look up the song and pretend I’m back in the ’80s. 🙂

  3. Sylvia Totzke April 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm Reply

    Great post, Jennifer. Thanks for reminding us how special each one of us are.


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