The Forever Child
Brown, Tina, Newsweek
Byline: Tina Brown
America's 'special needs.'
When my husband and I used to attend the event titled "Transition Weekend" at our son's private special-needs school in Massachusetts, the presentations that were hard to bear were from the financially strapped parents of kids who'd graduated two or three years past. These were the wistful mothers and fathers who got up and told us to make the most of our last year or two at the school because those would probably be the happiest years of our parenting lives. At this nurturing place, our kids were continually supported, encouraged, and taught skills for independence. They had friends on tap. They had activities that stimulated and distracted them.
"Since julia left," I remember one mother recounting in a weary voice from the dais, "she rarely gets out of the house. There are no state programs for young adults like her near us. Julia used to go two mornings a week to a program where there was music and a social group, but that closed last year, and we can't afford the fees of the only other program on offer. I had to give up my job. She watches TV most of the time. She used to always be cheerful. Now she's doing less and less. We'd be grateful for any suggestions."
Many of the parents we got to know at these heartbreaking Transition Weekends were divorced. Marriages so often crack up under the demands of special needs. Usually it's the mother who shoulders the burden alone. Some husbands prove unable to accept that their son is never going to fulfill a cherished paternal dream. There is a commonly cited statistic that the divorce rate among parents of autistic children is 80 percent. It's not true, but as one mother told us, it feels true.
Many others--as in my own family--forge deep bonds with each other and with other mothers and fathers in the same boat. …