I thank you, special needs parents, for your enduring efforts to emotionally connect with your children, even when they cannot connect with you. So many of you, especially those whose children have autism or developmental delays, continue to put yourself in vulnerable positions, looking (and desperately hoping) for the slightest signs that your child can reciprocate your affection. While learning to never need your own emotions reciprocated to keep you going, you can appreciate those fleeting moments with a heartfelt gratitude that few of the rest of us can ever sense. We, instead, place ourselves in an endless chase, needing our children to appreciate us, respect us, or just acknowledge our efforts so that we can feel like good parents. For showing us all that it’s what we do, regardless of what our kids do in return, that validates our parenting, I thank you.

In many ways, all of our kids have special needs, because all of our kids are unique individuals, with unique lessons to learn as they carve their unique paths through life. But so many families out there know what it means to have kids with real special needs, families whose daily experiences, and choices in response to those experiences, give the rest of us hope that life can still go on, hope can still ring true.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is thank you, special needs parents, for teaching me what love is.

Hal E. Runkel, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the National Bestseller ScreamFree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, from Waterbrook Press. Visit http://www.screamfree.com/ for more information.