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Parents of special-needs children say support, prayer make all the differencecomment (0)

March 19, 2009

By Anna Swindle

When Brenda McClelland was in high school, she read “Angel Unaware,” a book by Dale Evans Rogers about being a parent with a special-needs child, and prayed that one day, God would give her a Down syndrome child. 

Little did the teenage McClelland know that years later, her youngest child, a daughter named Faith, would be born with the disorder.

“She was just meant to be,” said McClelland, a member of Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association. “God has a purpose for everything, and [Faith] has pulled me through a lot.”

Even though Faith has been a blessing and source of joy, McClelland admits being a full-time caregiver is not an easy task.

She can never leave 34-year-old Faith alone in the house for more than an hour, and Faith relies on her mother for help with things like getting her lunch packed and getting dressed and ready for her workday at a center for the mentally challenged.

“I’m a mother forever,” said McClelland, who has been a single mom since Faith was 4 years old. “Faith will never really grow up.”

One of McClelland’s biggest concerns has always been what Faith’s future would be like if something happened to her. It would be a huge responsibility to leave Faith’s care to someone else, McClelland said, adding she’s also worried about how Faith would handle such a change mentally.

Kelly Gilliland understands what it’s like to have a life that revolves around caring for a special-needs child. Her 17-year-old son Ben has cerebral palsy and requires almost constant attention.

“A lot of people don’t realize that we can’t leave Ben,” said Gilliland, a member of North Shelby Baptist Church, Birmingham, in Shelby Baptist Association. “Everything I need to do away from the house, I do before Ben gets home from school.”

Ben, a junior at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, uses a wheelchair to get around and has aides to help him throughout the school day. 

Unlike Faith, Ben may be able to live on his own one day, Gilliland said, and college is definitely an option for him as well.

Ben’s grandparents moved to Birmingham about two years ago and have been a big help with his care, but prior to that, Gilliland said it was hard for him to have freedom away from his mom and dad. 

Gilliland said her family learned very quickly how important it was to support one another.

“We depend on each other tremendously,” she said. “I feel like we are definitely a tighter, closer-knit family because we are together a lot. I guess you’re just kind of looking out for each other, making sure each other’s needs are met.”

McClelland said having a special-needs child has brought her family closer together as well.

“My older kids are more caring because they grew up around Faith,” she said. “They had to almost help me raise her, so they learned to be caring toward all people with handicaps.”

Gilliland and McClelland wouldn’t trade their children for anything in the world, but both said their routines are much affected by having a child with special needs. 

Still both mothers work hard to make their children’s lives as normal as possible.

“Don’t not do things because you’re scared,” Gilliland said, offering advice to other parents of special-needs children. “Let them experience childhood and also pray a lot.”

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