The 5 Needs: Love and Belonging | Organization for Autism Research

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Going into the Christmas season, talking about love and belonging may seem strange to some folks and depressing for others. We all know the holidays are “supposed” to be full of love and belonging, but we also know that some people are not able to enjoy the holidays.

When you have a child of any age with any difference that is not considered “normal”, things can be tough. Simple things like:

  • Having a full home of friends and family (Can be rough)
  • Baking and trying not to let it burn (Sometimes stress filled)
  • Going shopping (NOT)
  • Wrapping gifts (You know, it all has an added bit of something different when you have a young one with special needs.)

Yet, there is love. It may not be expressed like many others. It may come from a non-verbal person through the look in their eyes or touch of their hand. It may come between temper outbursts in some children, but there IS love.

Love comes in so many packages. Learning to see how people meet the need for love and belonging is quite a journey. People with and without disabilities need to be loved and give love, however, it is not always easy to see how this works for each individual. Life is indeed an adventure and the need for love and belonging are part of that adventure. Becoming sensitive and alert to little things can provide us with the answers we seek on how to love, teach love, and find the special places and ways we can all belong.

Those with special needs require extra attention and care when it comes to love and belonging. Teaching about safety is so important with this need. OAR has just published a guide that can help.

Here are some important facts to consider when starting to think about love and belonging:

  • Before we can help others learn about meeting the need for love, we must learn to meet our own need for love. So, the first thing you can do is learn to love YOU. Yes, before you can fully love others, you need to learn to enjoy yourself.
  • This is something we rarely think about, but it does matter. When we teach The 5 Needs, and get to love and belonging, one question we ask is: “Who is the most important person for you to learn to love?” we often hear “God.” Yes, God can and does matter, but even God says to learn to love yourself. That was nice of God!

Learning to love ourselves is easy for some and perhaps more difficult for others. This is a lifelong process. For starters, ask yourself some questions:

  • When I look into the mirror, beyond my physical body, do I like who I see? Do I like the person I have become?
  • What kind things do I say/think to myself? Maybe write yourself a letter.
  • Do I believe it is selfish to care for me: to take time for fun things I like, to get a turn with the TV remote, to get alone time? Do I do these things?
  • Am I worthy of love? Does God love me? When I am alone, what do I think of me?

The list could go on and on. The point is this: we must take time to learn to love and care for ourselves. This includes finding places we can fit in. Our special needs children need us to do this. We have heard it before, but it is true. If we do not learn and practice taking care of ourselves, we will pay for it physically, emotionally and spiritually. We can help ourselves avoid some suffering if we will learn to practice this important life skill: take care of YOU. Find places you fit in and belong, gain from your relationships, especially the one you develop with yourself.

As the New Year approaches, let’s begin with us, you and me. Find love and belonging in daily life, your heart and relationships. If you need a hand, call this organization, they are here to help us all.

As a holiday gift to yourself, consider working through “Moms Have Needs” published by

About the author: Hello, my name is Wendy Swenson. I am a mother of three grown children and a grandmother, too. One of my children came to me by way of adoption. He is currently 32 years of age and has high-functioning autism. His life has been a miracle. I will tell you more about him in time. I work full-time as a school social worker and am a licensed clinical social worker. I have also authored six books on The 5 Needs we all share in life. I earned my Masters in Social Work from Southern University at New Orleans, where I grew up. My son and I moved to Virginia in order to receive better services for him in 2001. He is working part time now and has a wonderful job coach.

Read Wendy’s previous posts on The 5 Needs:

To pre-order a hard copy of A Guide to Safety, please fill out this order form.

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