• Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

What is it like raising a child with Special Needs? We hear from Linda Atwell.



Linda is the author of Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs. I thought it would be interesting to find out about her life with a special needs child.  Here are her words.


A fellow passenger on a cruise ship recently called me a “helicopter mom”—you know, the kind of parent who hovers over her child. In that moment, I was equally amused and irritated by his tag. I believe this gentleman came to his conclusion during dinner. I had leaned over, and in a low voice, asked my thirty-seven-year-old daughter if she would like help cutting her chicken breast into smaller pieces. Lindsey quietly answered, “Yes, please.” Then I asked if I could adjust her water and soda goblets within easy reach. Again, her response: “Yes, please.”

In most cases, asking an adult child these questions would raise eyebrows. But my daughter has essential tremors. When she uses her fine motor skills—in circumstances such as cutting poultry—her exaggerated movements will shake a table. Had there not been full water and/or wine glasses at each of the six place settings, I would have encouraged my daughter to attempt this task. In this instance, I understood if Lindsey tried to cut the meat herself, her tremors would cause the stemware to tremble as if a strong earthquake had suddenly struck the area. And, I also recognized she might be embarrassed—especially if one of the glasses tumbled over and spilled its contents across the tablecloth and onto the laps of the other guests.

In addition to essential tremors, my daughter has also been diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Years ago, in 1986, Oregon Health Science University doctors explained that Lindsey has a short in her neurological system and will never process information the same as her peers. In many social situations, our daughter is high functioning. For instance, if the subject being discussed is of interest to her, she can carry on a pretty darn good conversation. If it isn’t, well, she will likely block out the goings-on around her, and without an ounce of self-consciousness, will pick at her cuticles, play with a blemish, or tug at the string hanging from her skirt.

Still, my daughter has achieved many life goals—the same objectives as many of her “typical” contemporaries. Currently, Lindsey lives in her own apartment. For the last ten years, she has worked a part-time job filing paperwork in the back room of a local insurance agent’s office. She tells anyone who asks, “I work full-time, two hours a day.” She has adopted two kittens, Sally and Cuddles, which she feeds, waters, and regularly cleans out their litter box—all on her own. Lindsey has also sponsored three little girls from the Philippines. Ever since she was sixteen, on the first day of every month, my daughter walks to the Safeway store in our small town, buys a twelve-dollar money order, and mails it to Children International. In exchange for her money, Lindsey receives pictures and notecards from her sponsor kids. “My beautiful daughters,” she states proudly, showing me their photographs.

I doubt the majority of my family members and good friends would ever call me a helicopter parent, yet if you go by Merriam-Webster’s definition: A parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child—I might actually be one.

On the other hand, if you checked out Dictionary.com’s definition of a helicopter parent, I doubt I’d qualify: A style of child rearing in which an overprotective mother or father discourages a child’s independence by being too involved in the child’s life.

Not only do my husband and I encourage our daughter’s independence, we applaud every single accomplishment she makes in that direction—and so does Lindsey. We want her to live on her own, but we feel fortunate, because she truly wants that for herself, too.

Considering Lindsey’s disabilities, we should probably hover more. We expect, in areas she is able, for her to complete whatever tasks she can to the best of her ability. Besides keeping her body and apartment clean, washing her clothes, getting herself to work on time, and taking her numerous prescribed medications (all things she is capable of doing), I also expect her to be responsible with money.

For instance, she receives Social Security Disability benefits, and as her representative payee, at the beginning of every month, I write out all the checks she will need during the next thirty or so days. Lindsey is then accountable for mailing or hand delivering the payments on time. So far, she has done this duty without any problems. Some of the checks I write are to be cashed weekly or bi-monthly. Those are to be spent for fun outings, personal expenses, or on groceries. She uses the envelope method, putting the cash in three #10 envelopes (labeled accordingly) for safekeeping. When the envelope is empty, she doesn’t have any more funds till the next check is scheduled to be cashed. When my daughter overspends, instead of giving her more funds, she generally goes without.

So, are these tactics considered tough love parenting? Or, as that fellow cruiser suggested, am I a helicopter mom? After all, I have set up fairly strict systems so Lindsey can achieve success.

In reality, I think we strive for “responsible parenting.” We’ve taught our daughter that she is capable of making decisions and that she is accountable for her choices. We believe those are skills she needs to continue living an independent lifestyle.

Self-sufficiency isn’t a gift. It is hard work—at least it is in our daughter’s case.

Wow. What great insight into Lindsey’s life. Sounds to me like the goober who said Linda was a helicopter parent should mind his own dang business (which he should have been doing anyway)! I believe Lindsey’s parents have set their daughter up for success in a way that’s good for everyone. Mom and dad get to see Lindsey succeed, knowing they are helping some but not all and Lindsey is empowered by the choices she makes within the parameters her parents have set for her.

Ignore the haters, Linda; I’m Team LINDSEY!  Are you a special needs parent? What are your feelings about being called a helicopter parent?