Embracing the “Extra”

by Shanna Meyer

When asked to describe what it’s like being the parent to a child with special needs, my first feeling is that of instant gratitude—gratitude that I am blessed to be the mom to such an amazing little soul. Every child is a gift from God. The only thing different about the life of a child with special needs is that it comes with a little (sometimes a lot) of “extra.” At times that extra can be scary for the entire family, but just like anything new in life, you learn to adapt. And even though it might not be what you expected, if you embrace that extra you will realize just how lucky you are. And for everyone who is blessed to know and be a part of that special needs child’s life, they will also get to experience the wonders that a little extra has to offer.

My husband, Sean, and I have been blessed with four children. Ireland, our second to youngest—and only girl—has been full of surprises from the very beginning! She was born with Down Syndrome, as well as Esophageal Atresia (EA). EA is a rare birth defect where there is no connection between the esophagus and stomach (and also one of the most challenging birth defects to surgically repair). She has had a very complicated medical journey with more surgeries and new diagnoses than we can count. There were so many times we didn’t know if she would live to see another day. But by the grace of God, she is still with us today and doing better than ever expected!!

We are very fortunate that Ireland was born into a world that has been very accepting of her, despite her differences. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case for children with special needs. Sometimes differences can be hard for people to accept and understand. People sometimes fear what they don’t know or understand. When it comes to raising a child with special needs, educating people is so important. As Ireland’s Mom, I have embraced her differences for over 12 years. So to me, she is no different. But to somebody who just meets her, it’s a natural response to be curious about her differences.

I encourage people to ask questions whenever curious about a child with special needs. I can’t speak for all parents, but personally, I am never offended when asked questions about Ireland—even when they are questions like, “What’s wrong with her?” It is a wonderful opportunity to educate and promote acceptance of all people no matter what their differences may be.

When Ireland was about a month old she started receiving special education services including physical, occupational, and speech therapies through the public school district. She attended public school through 2nd grade. During those years she learned to walk, talk, and eat by mouth—all things that her doctors feared she may never do. Because of Ireland’s complex health issues, she has always required a nurse to attend school with her. We are so blessed to have the resources available that allow Ireland to live at home and active in our community, instead of living in the hospital.

In 2016 we were blessed to become a part of Genesis Classical Academy. Our son, Wesley, had his first year at GCA as a 6th grader and is currently in 8th grade. Our youngest son, Luie, is now in his second year of preschool. Ireland started in kindergarten and is still a kindergartner (we like to refer to her as our “Professional Kindergartener”). Typically, you won’t find a 12-year-old in kindergarten, but Ireland isn’t your typical child. Developmentally, she is between a preschool to kindergarten level. She also happens to be unusually small for her age and is similar in size to most kindergarteners.

Currently, Genesis Classical Academy does not have a special education program, but that doesn’t mean that Ireland or other children with special needs can’t be educated there. It simply means that sometimes what is needed is thinking outside of the box to find something that works best. Genesis does that for each and every one of their students, and Ireland is no exception. My husband and I couldn’t be happier with the education our children are receiving at GCA and that God is present in every aspect of it. We are so grateful to be a part of such an amazing school where every child is accepted and embraced with open arms—extra and all.