From the moment that wriggling, wailing, beautiful bundle was placed in your arms, you knew your child was special. But the word “special” assumes a new dimension when it is paired with the word “needs.”

Special needs.

All children have needs, but some children’s needs are “special.” That may mean challenges beyond what any parent expected—but unexpected joys, too. Accepting a diagnosis for your child is an ongoing process and some parents struggle more than others. Remember, a diagnosis need not define you, your child or your family. Every family’s experience is unique, but certain things are universal. Perhaps you will recognize yourself—or someone you know—here.

You might be a special needs family if…

  • You spend more time talking to doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists or speech therapists than to your friends.
  • When caller ID shows your child’s school calling, you know they’re not calling about the latest fundraiser.
  • Every outing must be planned with more precision than a military operation and you have a backup plan for your backup plan.
  • Your bookshelves are overflowing with titles containing acronyms such as: ADHD, OCD, ODD, ASD, CP, LD
  • Planning and preparing a gourmet dinner for the Queen of England seems like child’s play compared to navigating the food and behavior issues at your table.
  • You are so experienced with tantrums that a child needs to approach the sound level of a jet engine to get your attention.
  • You have had to excuse yourself (or forcibly remove your child) from a store or restaurant more times than the average security guard escorts people out in his entire career.
  • You spend more time and energy securing a sitter than most Fortune 500 companies spend finding a CEO. And you still rush home because you’re uncertain the sitter is qualified.
  • You know more about your company’s health plan than the HR department.
  • You dread the large-scale, special occasions at school or at a relative’s house.
  • You dream about a night of undisturbed sleep, even while you’re asleep.
  • You feel like an emotional bomb detector, picking your way carefully through the day to try and avoid an explosion.
  • Your patience has expanded beyond what you ever dreamed possible; yet on some days even the patience of Mother Teresa isn’t enough.
  • You can laugh at what others see as a disaster, knowing that this too shall pass, and this too could have (and has) been worse.
  • Some days you do more coaching than an entire NFL team staff.
  • You often worry about siblings feeling left out and can’t find a formula to divide your scant 24 hours a day fairly (but you keep trying).
  • You feel more understood by strangers who “get it” than friends and family.
  • You feel like throwing a huge party to celebrate that your child has made a friend or been invited to a play date or birthday party.
  • Finally, you might be a special needs family if others see what you already know: that your kid—despite his challenges—is terrific.

Sue LeBreton is a health and wellness journalist and a member of a special needs family. She finds laughing is often more helpful than crying.