Why My Child Doesn’t Look Like They Have Special Needs

Special needs don’t always look the way you expect them to.

I have an absolutely awesome kid who has worked hard to learn how to manage many of his special needs.

Throughout his life, people have offhandedly commented something like “He seems perfectly normal,” which honestly diminishes how much he has struggled (as well as the rest of the family) and how hard he has worked to get where he is.

Today I’m welcoming Kathryn from Singing Through the Rain to talk about the myths about what a kid with special needs actually looks like for my series Voices of Special Needs.

Why My Child Doesn't Look Like They Have Special Needs

Why My Child Doesn’t Look Like He Has Special Needs

1. Kids With Special Needs Don’t Necessarily Look Different

Just because a child may have special needs doesn’t mean he or she will look any different than you or I.

A lot of children with special needs look just like any other average, typical child.

This is called an invisible disability.

There are many many adults and children who have invisible disabilities, our job is to be more aware of this and to be compassionate and inclusive.

2. What You Don’t Know or See

My children may not look like they have special needs, but there are plenty of things that many people don’t know or see.

People don’t see the behavior problems, the sensory problems, the constipation problems, the hours it takes at each meal to get my son to eat, the times where he has a meltdown because we can’t understand what he’s saying, and so much more.

There are plenty of things that people can’t see, but they are all a part of his special needs.

For my daughter, there are also many things that people can’t see just by looking at her.

She has a feeding tube that might not always be visible and no one sees the hours of time spent at multiple specialist’s offices.

I get told a lot that she looks great and that they don’t understand why she needs a feeding tube.

What isn’t understood is that the reason she looks great is because of the feeding tube.

That feeding tube probably saved her life and continues to do so every day.

3. What Happens at Home

People think my children “look” or seem normal because they see my child for a short time.

In that short time they may be doing great.

We’ve had family members come spend a day with us in the past and they tell us nothing seems wrong with our kids.

The point is that they are only seeing on single day in their lives,  not seeing the whole overall picture.

My son has good days and bad days.

Some days he does great, other days are very hard for him.

Home is a safe place for him so the majority of the behavior and other problems he has happen at home.

So just because you may see my child out and about for 10 or 20 minutes of that day and they look fine, doesn’t mean that they don’t have special needs.

4. Therapy

I saved this point for last because this is the most important to me and my family.

We’ve been told that my son is a perfect example of a child who got early intervention.

My son has been in therapy since he was 12 months old, and my daughter started therapy at that the early age of three months old.

They both have worked extremely hard to get to where they are today and to what you see as “normal.”

You don’t see my kids “looking” like they have special needs because of the early interventions, because of our advocacy for them, and because of the hours and hours of hard work they did in therapy.

I look back and remember where my son was three years ago, and I am amazed at how far he has come.

I look at my daughter and watch her improvement in walking, eating ,and sensory awareness each and every week in therapy and I am amazed.

When you see my kids, please know that they “look” normal because instead of playing with friends they were in therapy.

Because we advocated for them and spent hours dealing with doctors and insurance companies so they could be where they are today.

Instead of going on playdates or hanging out with other moms I was working with our kids at home and taking them to therapy.

Special needs parents sacrifice so much and my kids are an example of that.

My kids may “look” normal, but when I look back to see where they were, I am so grateful.

I am so proud of my kids and so proud of how far they have come.

The next time you see a special needs child that doesn’t “look” like they have special needs, I hope you remember that the reason for that is because of how far they have come and because of all the hard work it has taken to get that point.

This post originally appeared on Singing Through the Rain. You can read more from Kathryn there.

Voices of Special Needs on Mommy Evolution: SPD, ADHD + Dyslexia


  1. Beautiful post – fair and true.
    Inclusion and compassion for ALL.
    And, slightly more petty – grrrrr to all those people who see your kid for a short time and think they know better!!!! I have certainly met my share!!
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

    1. Hazel Massey says:

      Thank you. Beautifully written, and expressed. This is my heart with my children. God so amazingly made every one…so blessed. I just pray each day, I do not let opinions (negative) go to my heart.

  2. Yes!! My son looks like any other 13 year old boy, on the larger size. And what no one appreciates is how far he’s come from the days when he didn’t understand what language was, and the days when he couldn’t leave any fun activity without melting down, and the days that I could take him grocery shopping for a million and one reasons. Looking at him now, you wouldn’t know that having certain teachers along the way have been traumatizing experiences because as much as I explained about him, they didn’t understand and couldn’t change their expectations. People don’t understand that my son doesn’t do activities after school because by the time he comes home from a day of school he’s fried and just needs to unwind in his own space. His SPD is kept well hidden. His learning disabilities only show at school. His anxiety has been pretty low lately. And his challenges brought on by ADHD, well, let’s just say there here. Thank you so very much for this wonderful article.

    1. Oops! I meant to write- could NOT take him shopping…. (anxiety, impulsivity, etc.)

    2. With my son’s Dyslexia, ADHD and sensory issues, he often doesn’t appear to have extra needs to the casual observer but we know what’s really going on and what my kiddo needs.

  3. Great share.. So admirable..
    Special needs kid are amazing.

    1. So are their parents! We tend to forget that we are also impoetant! I understood that when my son put a blanket on me after I spent all night caring for him. We find strenght where we never thought we had!

  4. I work in child care and we have several children with special needs. We cry with them when they are having lows and we celebrate their successes! Some people come in and wonder why they “get special treatment” or why we have children that behave so inappropriately. It’s not because they are mean people, it’s because they don’t understand. I’m so excited to see articles like this that educate people on special needs. WTG and excellent article! Thank you!

    1. It’s very true that people often assume a special needs child is getting “special treatment” just because there isn’t something physically obvious. I agree that many of these folks aren’t mean people — but ignorance can be just as awful.

  5. This post is truly inspiring.It is true that when others come to our home,they see my child for few hours or for a day.But,only it is just few moments of our lives and doesn’t show the hard time we undergo when raising kids… 🙂

    1. We particularly see this with family and friends who just can’t seem to grasp what really goes on in our house. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    You literally said everything I’ve thought and wanted to say.

    I literally want to send this article to our family and friends.

    Thanks again!

    1. Feel free to share! I think many of our family and friends mean well but just don’t get it. It’s up to us to educate them.

  7. Yummy mummy 77 says:

    Wow, an amazing read, and one that really hits home. Our 6 yr old has come a huge way in the last 2 yrs, thanks to an awful lot of hard work on our part and that of his special school. To people who only see snippets of him, they dont see any of his ‘special needs’ or how he struggles with his learning, anxiety, sensory, speech, understanding, toileting, social communication, play, i could go on and on. Fantastic, thankyou.?

  8. Wow — so true and so great. I have a son with autism and my mom would say “he looks fine to me.” If she ever took the time to look deeper, she would have seen his “stimming” whenever he was excited or stressed. She would have seen how he ran away whenever he heard loud noises. She would have seen his lack of eye contact and limited interests. When this same son was older, he developed a curvature in his spine and had to wear a brace. Because he often look stooped, it really bothered my mom. She noticed! People are just so superficial and appearances are everything. What you want — and certainly what I wanted — was some acknowledgement of all I was doing and sacrificing to help my son. I give that to you now because you earned it!

    1. And I send all of that back to you as well, Nancy. It’s disheartening when people disqualify all you’re doing just because they can’t “see” the disability or how hard it is… beyond just raising a kiddo. <3

  9. What a wonderful post! Our children at times look put together so we’ve heard these comments, too. (At other times we are melting down all over the place so it’s very clear that they have special needs!! Both ways bring their own challenges.) Thanks for sharing!

  10. I wish more teachers and school staff would actually read up on things and educate them selfs.
    My daughter has a iep and is told to be more responsible and remember her items but her anxiety makes it difficult to remember items when the bell rings. I have been told she acts fine at school are you sure it’s not something going on at home. She’s SPD , dyslexic , dyspraxia ,anxiety.

  11. Veronica Soler says:


    Thanks for this publication. I feel the same way. I have a kid with special needs and because his first language is spanish and so mb etimes he doesn’t know how to communicate in school with the teachers or counselor they just tell me he is a normal kid . He has a 504 that I don’t know how to work with since I am not completely satisfied with it.

  12. Deborah Paul says:

    This is just beautiful. My son is one of those who doesn’t “look” like he has a disability He started working with Early Intervention at 4 months.

  13. This is a wonderful post that parents and educators need to read. It is so hard to hear that your child looks fine. Having your close family members and friends seemingly dismiss the daily struggles you face even just to get out of the door on time, hurts. Having to fight with your child’s school just to get the supports they need put in place is exhausting. Especially if they are not even aware of the problems in the first place.

  14. Nena Lawrence Barnett says:

    Thank you for your article. I admire you for being an advocate for your children. I know parents who did not support their children as you do. I am a special needs teacher, I have worked with students with many different disabilities. I have been a self-contained and resource teacher. I have worked with regular education teachers who do not understand the students I work with on a daily basis. I have heard them say, “They can’t learn how to read” or ” With that behavior, they should be suspended”. It bothers me to hear things like this. We never know what people are going through. Most of us are not doctors and should not try to give advice to parents who live with their children 24/7. I try to be supportive for my students and for their parents.

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