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It’s Not a Catastrophe

Learning to cope, one year at a time

Published on: September 29, 2017

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Editor Note:

This is part of a collection of seven personal essays written by parents of children who have special needs. 

The dentist said my daughter might need to be sedated for her first cavity fillings.

“We can try using laughing gas, but your daughter gets nervous, right? We don’t do sedation, but you can find a dentist who does.”

“Yes, she’s nervous, but she’ll be fine. I trust you,” I said.

As I hung up the phone, I wondered if the dentist was right. My Annie was anxious. Perhaps fear would take over her body when the needle loomed over her. Was I making the right decision by refusing to research any more options before her first cavity procedure?

The dentist wasn’t wrong to worry. I’ve been trying to figure out how to help my sensitive girl for a long time. Annie and I weathered the storm of repeating kindergarten, and we’ve done years of therapy and tutoring. While Annie has never undergone private testing that would, potentially, provide specific labels, there’s no ignoring that her learning struggles share similarities to dyslexia, dyscalculia and sensory processing issues.

How she walks in this world — that's what matters. 

In the beginning, I struggled with seeing how different she was from most of her classmates. During her kindergarten holiday concert, Annie froze on stage for nearly the entire show. From the audience, I willed her to move. Around me, families smiled, intently using their phones and cameras to record the show. The light was startling. “What the hell?” I whispered to my husband. “Who are they recording this for?”

After the show, Annie’s teacher said the evening must have been one crowded, overwhelming event too much for my girl to manage. This soothed me some, but my husband was upset. “What is wrong with her?” he asked. “Why can’t she just sing like everybody else?”

“Nothing is wrong with her!” I replied. “Of course she was a mess! Who wouldn’t be with all of those cameras going off? I’m sick of seeing her as a problem.”

My fury surprised me, as I’d long been asking the same questions that he had: Why couldn’t Annie be like everybody else? Why did I have to spend my mornings coaxing her to attend school and my afternoons calming her enough to go to tutoring?

But, in that moment after the concert, I realized something: I was done. I would no longer make every hard minute a catastrophe. I would stop wishing that Annie’s learning differences would disappear. In that moment, I saw her for who she is and I decided to help, not resist, that person.

That’s why, a few days before our recent trip to the dentist, I talked Annie through every detail. She cried. I answered all of her questions. I bought her some music for my iPhone, which she could listen to during the filling procedure. “You’ve got this,” I told her right before the appointment, because I know my girl. And she did. She easily made it through her first cavity filling, no sedation needed.

Read the full collection

  1. The Secret Language of Chickens: How a family pet helped a boy communicate

  2. Dangling Without a Diagnosis: Moving forward on an unclear path

  3. Parenting in the Present: Why special needs aren't so special

  4. Undercover Expertise: A mom on trusting her gut

  5. It's Not a Catastrophe: Learning to cope, one year at a time

  6. My Daughter's Superpower: A mother's diagnosis helps inform her daughter's

  7. 'But She Looks So Normal': Reflections from a mom of an Asian American child who has Down syndrome

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