How I parent my autistic son and typically developing daughter differently

May 4, 2015 at 5:28 p.m. ET
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I know I am one of many moms who happen to be raising two very different children: one child who has special needs and another child who is typically developing. However, I would like to share my experiences because I feel that raising two very different children has opened up my world in so many ways.

I have two children, one daughter who is 13 and typically developing and one son, age 11, who has mild autism and moderate ADHD. My daughter walked, spoke and hit all of her other milestones at the ages that would be considered average. She is currently finishing up grade seven, and next year she will be preparing for high school. She has her friends who she texts, calls and sees on a regular basis outside of school. She is already talking about her future. She talks about dating, driving and going to college, and eventually moving out. Most typically developing children do follow a similar path and have similar types of goals. In other words, they naturally evolve.

My son however is not at all following that path. Even though he is 11, he is evolving in a very different way. My son did start walking at an average age. However, he ended up hitting the other milestones at a much older age with the help of early intervention. He started receiving therapy when he was 3, and without it he may not have hit any of those milestones at all. He potty trained very late (but thankfully he did). He does talk in sentences and gets his point across well but his speech is still more or less limited. He still needs therapy and he is going to a school where he is receiving ABA therapy. But with the help of the therapy, he is slowly evolving. My son will be staying at that school during his high school years and he will be taught a trade.

My daughter will go to the local high school once she hits grade nine, and hopefully will be inspired during her high school years to work in a particular field and then go to college to attain a diploma/degree in the area that interests her. My son, at his school, will be learning a skill and will be in that co-op program they offer. He will receive help with a job placement. I am also involved in the services around him so they can help him transition to a place to live once he is an adult. My daughter will stay home until she is naturally ready to be on her own. You have different concerns when it comes to your children who are on completely different paths. For instance, I will be worried about those times when she is out late at night, as well as who she may be hanging around with. Don't get me started on the idea of her dating. With my son, there are not those kinds of worries. Even though he is getting a lot of help and guidance, it is still a concern about how he will function in the world. In other words, the concerns you have about a child with special needs, and a typically developing child are going to be quite different.

I am not here putting limits on my son's abilities. I am very open to the fact that he very well may surprise us and do things on his own that were never expected. However, based on the path he has been on, I am being realistic about everything. Based on what I have written, I have to say that parenting a child who is typically developing is very different from parenting a child who has special needs. You obviously need to help and guide your children regardless of ability when it comes to evolving and growing. However, a typically developing child, with the right guidance, will naturally evolve. A child with special needs will also evolve and grow, however at a much different rate, with a lot more guidance and through a different path. If you're raising one child with autism or any kind of special need and one who's developing typically, my advice to you is embrace the experience because you will end up stronger and wiser.