NASHVILLE, Tenn.— Laura Jernigan vividly recalls when Stephen, her now-16-year-old son with Down syndrome, was undergoing treatment for leukemia in 1999. Once a week for 18 months, Jernigan took a day off work to take Stephen to the doctor.

When she pulled him from the car, she settled him on her knee and then heaved his 70-pound weakened body into her arms. Jernigan, 50 at the time, carried Stephen from her car and rode a snail-paced elevator up to the doctor's office.

"I was so worried about Stephen, I didn't even think about getting a handicap sticker," said Jernigan, who also carried supplies with her for an all-day stay at the doctor's office.

Jernigan is among the parents for whom Janet Lynn Mitchell and Susan Titus Osborn have written a new book, "A Special Kind of Love: For Those Who Love Children with Special Needs," released by Broadman & Holman, the trade book division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Stories like Jernigan's fill the pages of the book by Mitchell and Osborn, both of whom intimately understand the hardships and rewards of living with special needs children. In 1990, Mitchell gave birth to a premature son, and six weeks later her daughter was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. In 1992, Osborn married a man with a 26-year-old mentally handicapped son who later married a mentally handicapped woman. Together the young couple had two children who eventually were adopted by other family members.

"This book is written for moms, dads, grandparents, foster parents and extended families who live with 'special' children on a day-by-day basis," the authors write in their forward. "It is also designed for teachers, doctors, social workers, friends of the family and pastors who work with these children."

The children in Mitchell and Osborn's book are blind, deaf, mentally, emotionally or physically challenged. Laura, the daughter of Linda Evans Shepherd, a mother who tells her story throughout the book, sustained brain damage in an auto accident when she was 18 months old. The doctors told Shepherd half of Laura's brain was destroyed and that she was in a permanent vegetative state.

"His unspoken words screamed, 'End it now! Pull the plug!'" Shepherd writes.

"But half of her brain is intact," she answered, then challenging the doctors by saying, "Are you telling me you can scientifically factor the impact my love, faith and prayers will have on this child's future?"

Now a young teen, Laura is in a wheelchair, on life support and can only communicate with tongue signals. Still, she attends two schools – one for kids with special needs and one for typical kids. "But you know, Laura is a happy little girl who really enjoys life," Shepherd writes.

"Parenting is challenging for most people," Mitchell and Osborn write. "However, dealing with a handicapping condition, a chronic illness or an emotional or social disability in a child presents an uphill challenge every day. Recent statistics have shown that more than 20 million families in the United States have a child with special needs – that's nearly one in three families."

The book offers optimism and advice to family members of special needs children.

"Living with chronic illness is difficult," the authors write in a chapter about hope. "Knowing that each day the person will face the side effects of his or her disease can be depressing. For a child, the contrast of physically feeling bad and the desire of wanting to fit in can be overwhelming.

"Hope is the ingredient that brings the excitement of tomorrow. It involves putting one's faith into action when doubting would be easier."

Their advice includes:

  • Getting second and third medical opinions before making major decisions. "Never accept one laboratory result or one doctor's diagnosis as fact," they write.
  • Forgive and realize that anger at people and situations is OK. Amid the "If you only prayed more" and "What's wrong with him?" comments coming from rude and thoughtless people, Mitchell and Osborn note that "forgiveness is in your control."
  • Take care of your own emotional, physical and spiritual needs. "Name your most immediate needs and be honest with yourself," they counsel.

The chapter themes in the book include faith, hope, loving unconditionally, trusting, forgiving, developing courage, overcoming setbacks and standstills, accepting, healing, blessings and joy.


© 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.