Moms Of Special Needs Kids & The Media

Andrea Kempel

Moms Of Special Needs Kids & The Media

In 2007 I was pregnant with my second child and stereotypically doing what many others like me did: Watch Oprah Winfrey’s show titled “Mothers Battle Autism” while my first born napped. A happy and determined Jenny McCarthy was the special guest, there to promote her latest book: “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey In Healing Autism”.  As a mom, I was there to listen, and so were thousands across the nation. Every sense in my body was tuned in as I heard vaccines were the cause of her child’s autism, and I carefully listened to every detail of dietary changes and extreme detox measurements designed to “cure” her child. In the end he was cured and I was now worried about vaccines and autism. But I was also impressed. Life had dealt Jenny a difficult hand, and she had figured it all out without anyone’s help; not even doctor’s –the hell with them and all their research-. According to what the media was showing me, this woman was a super model, a business owner, a writer, an actress, a mother of a special needs child. She was super-mom.

As life has it the reality of special needs parenting would eventually reveal itself to me. Fast forward eight years and a degenerative eye disease diagnosis on both of my sons, and my job as a special needs mom proved to be better when surrounded by support. Us moms of special needs kids are not super-mom, and we do need help.

I recently saw a video featuring 2012 Mrs. World April Lufriu being interviewed by anchor Cindy Edwards on the Daytime show. The interview appears to be about the Mrs. World pageant, but Mrs. Lufriu gracefully turns the subject to her kids and spends much of the interview speaking about the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB). Her children, like mine, have a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. When told that pageants get a bad rep Mrs. Lufriu asserts wanting to change those views:  “I’m just a mom fighting a battle against time, and I just want to portray that more than anything else. I’m not just a beauty queen. I’m here on a mission”. The interviewer also comments on her busy schedule, travels, children, husband and business, intentionally showing her almost in a non human way, yet as Mrs. Lufriu openly admits, behind the pageant smoke screen is a mother advocating and asking for help. A vulnerable Mrs. Lufriu, who like myself is full of worry and full of hope knowing the only possibility of medical research moving forward and finding a cure relies on the monetary donations people make to the FFB.
 NBC’s popular TV show Parenthood features Kristina Braverman (Monica Potter) as one of the main characters and her Max (Max Burkholder) who has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of Autism. The show features Max and the family’s joys and struggles as a result of Max’s disability. Many of their episodes show Kristina as a mom in a very real way. In one episode, for example, she is shown attending an Asperger’s parents support group and viewers are exposed to some of the tension and sadness that erupts as Kristina hears the stories of other parents as they relate to her own. But the show isn’t always true to the average family condition; NBC’s website describes Kristina’s character as a mother raising “Three children (including one toddler, one pre-teen with autism and a college student), while fighting and winning an emotional battle with breast cancer, and running for mayor”. The description doesn’t even mention that Kristina also opened her own charter school in order to provide a better and more inclusive education for Max.
I recently stumbled upon a particularly insightful blog post featured in the Huffington Post titled “7 Things You Don’t Know About A Special Needs Parent” written by M. Lin (A  writer, journalist and mother of a special needs child). One one of her main points, “I am human”, tells us about the joys and challenges of raising a child with a special needs while reminding readers that we are more similar to all other moms than we are different. We too feel tired. We have good and bad days, and days when our kids drive us crazy and we need a break. We have our own hopes and our lives. We’re just human.
The media has greatly redeemed itself since that 2007 Jenny McCarthy interview and consistently shown us that vaccines don’t cause autism after all, but much remains unsaid about mothers of special needs children. Many want you to know that autistic children are not broken and therefore don’t need to be fixed. Most of us wish people would stop telling us “God only gives special needs kids to special parents”, as if all other mothers in the world would drop on the floor and never get back up if they found out their child was different. I am a mom, a student, a wife and an educator. I advocate for my children fiercely and love them entirely and unconditionally for who they are and have confidence in their abilities. I have been challenged beyond any stretch of my imagination, but I feel lucky be my children’s mom. My role as a mom of special needs children has taught me that disability is a normal part of society. The people in our society and our children benefit from the contributions you make to our walks, from having an inclusive community, from being supported, and from kindness and its felts results. As Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little; Together we can do so much”.
Works Cited
“Mothers Battle Autism.” N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014
“April Lufriu- Mrs. World Shuns Fame for Her Family.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Monica Potter | About | Parenthood | NBC.” NBC. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Drumming, Neil. “Parenthood” and the Charter School Dream.” Saloncom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.
Lin, M. “7 Things You Don’t Know About A Special Needs Parent.” The Huffington Post., 09 Mar. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.
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About akempel

I am a mom, wife, and a student. I work hard at raising funds and awareness to find a cure for Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) so that my son's don't have to grow up to live in darkness.

2 thoughts on “Moms Of Special Needs Kids & The Media

  1. Replying to Andrea Kempel:
    What I want to do is work with special need children because I grew up with special need children since my elementary and middle school had a small special need class. As a child I use to be so afraid with those with disabilities but after growing up with them, I found out that they are perfectly fine. Everyone has their flaws. I love the quote you used from Hellen Keller “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much more”, I had a huge research project on Hellen and she changed my views on life. I remember in one of my psychology class we talked about autism kids and it brought me a lot of knowledge. Before I didn’t really know what autism was, I just knew how they acted by seeing it for myself but after the class, I understood reasons why they act a certain way. I remember from one video, an child with autism finally was able to communicate with their parents and they said they can’t control how they act sometimes and they actually feel and know a lot. Being a special needs mom is basically like a superhero, if not them then who? If it weren’t for mothers then I don’t know how the world would function. I remember reading an article that talked about how a mother of an autism child, threw her kid off the bridge because she couldn’t handle being a special needs mother. It’s really hard for them but like what you said “God only gives special needs kids to special parents”.

  2. Andrea,
    You have written a powerful explanation that all of society needs to listen too. All of your examples of powerful women and tv shows that advocate for special needs children are super important and effective. However, I have a hard time reading this without stopping and thinking about you! You are one of these powerful women! I am so glad that you have people in pop culture to look up to for guidance of some sort, but don’t forget that they look at you in the same light. Thank you for sharing your story with me and never forget how strong YOU are as a mother and a person. Cheers Andrea and good luck!

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