Special needs AND adolescence? Whoa.

I’ve mentioned a few times I have a daughter with Down syndrome. She has been an utter delight in so many ways, and such a blessing to our family. She smiles and hugs and just shines like the sun around pretty much everyone. She’s silly and goofy and has a great time with everything. She was even an “easy” baby, just so content to sit and observe and smile (a relief after my first baby, who was very demanding and had to be held ALL THE TIME).

Yeah, I had an adjustment period getting used to the idea of having a child with a mental disability. Luckily, I was able to absorb that information before she was even born, thanks to a blood screening test and then an amniocentesis. It is a shock; it’s scary; it’s unnerving. It’s not something you ever expect will happen to you. It changes things. But I came to terms with the new emotions and fears and uncertainties and just embraced the sweet daughter I got.

Honestly, even though for the first few years of her life, she was slower in her development than other kids (and than my first), and she needed special early-intervention services, it wasn’t often I thought that it was just that much different than raising my older daughter. It was mostly just a minor adjustment in expectations and in schedule, sometimes. I thought, “you know, this isn’t too bad. She’s not really different from other kids.” And honestly, she still isn’t.

But as she’s gotten older and is now a teenager, so much has changed. As time has marched forward further and further, it’s become clear just HOW much behind other kids she is, at least in terms of what she is learning (reading is great; comprehension is still not as great; and math? ARGH), and how much younger she really acts than other kids. When your child is only 6 and has lags in development and seems more like a 3- or 4-year-old, compared to other 6-year-olds, it’s still not a big difference. But when she’s now 14 and acts like and has the grade level, basically, of a 7-year-old, that gap is much bigger. It’s a gaping chasm that is obvious to everyone.

I was getting accustomed to that growing distance in development as well. But now she has hit puberty and has started menstruating, and man, that is a whole other story. My 10-year-old, who is bright and intensely curious and conscientious, learned about the whole “female thing” last year and asked me with great concern, “Mom, have you told Marissa about this? ‘Cause she’s going to start this soon.” I replied, “You’re right, kiddo. But how would I explain this to her ahead of time? Would she really understand? How would she react?” I thought it would be easiest to just catch her when it first happened and do a very simple explanation. She was fine with it, too, for a few months, happy to be like a “young woman,” like her older sister and mom.

rainBut then the hormones seemed to kick in. Now she’s been moody and sometimes snappish, completely out of nowhere. She will burst into tears like a sudden cloudburst. I thought it was probably just PMS, as in “pre-” menstrual, but now it happens whenever. Her teacher called today to let me know she’s been bursting into tears in class sometimes too.

It’s so much easier to explain the how and, especially, the “why” of hormones and moods and all that female stuff to a young woman who understands the nuances and can do a little better at looking inward and analyzing a bit and piecing things together. But I fear those kinds of things are lost on my second child. So it just breaks my heart to see her going through these moods and having no idea why she feels so sad all of a sudden.

Nope, this is a lot trickier than just making sure my toddler is learning to walk properly or hold a pencil well so she can write. Those were walks in the park. Now, life is much more complicated. But isn’t that always the case?

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is RatedReads.com. I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

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