An important aspect of parenting a child with special needs is setting appropriate, realistic expectations. This is much easier said than done. Regardless of what your child’s diagnosis, or “label,” turns out to be, he or she is an individual. Your child is likely to have abilities or strengths which are unusual to her condition. Or, he may have difficulties that some children with the same disorder don’t normally face. There is no one-description-fits-all for any special needs child. You must create a balance of both a hopeful, positive outlook, and one that doesn’t expect more than what is reasonable.
Tips for Finding the Right Balance of Hope and Reality:
- Education. Educate yourself thoroughly on your child’s condition. Speak to doctors, read books, do internet research. Meet other parents whose children have the same challenges. Gain an understanding of what some kids have been able to accomplish at the most optimistic, hopeful level. And also become aware of what the more grim realities might be. What is the best and worst case scenario? Realize that your child is most likely to fall somewhere in the middle, but that anything is possible.
- Don’t be too limiting. If you assume “my child will never be able to do that,” it’s likely he won’t. And if you get into the habit of doing everything for him, you’re not providing him with the opportunity to learn. Let your child lead the way. Give him plenty of guidance and opportunity, and let him show you what he can do. Don’t make assumptions that your child won’t achieve.
- Set short-term goals. Focus on each new skill your child is mastering. As she demonstrates mastery, move forward to the next goal. By steadily progressing through simple short term goals, you’ll be surprised at how far she can go. The journey of a thousand miles always starts with one step.
- Know when to step back or change focus. If your child is “stuck” in a certain aspect of learning, don’t force the issue to frustration. Change the focus to another subject where your child shows promise. Break down the more challenging obstacles into very tiny, manageable parts. For example, if your daughter can read words but struggles with comprehension, start back at the point where she shows understanding. Choose more simple books and ask “what happened next?” questions.
- Let go, sit back, and let be. What has helped me with my son Kyle is to occasionally let go of expectations altogether. This doesn’t mean I don’t encourage and challenge him, and it doesn’t mean he isn’t constantly working on specific goals at home and at school. But I let go and free myself from both the limiting, negative assumptions, and the unrealistic hopes. I just sit back and allow myself to be surprised by what he accomplishes. And he always seems to surprise me. I have come to terms with the fact that Kyle is a different child, who does things his own way. I don’t compare him to others but to his own past. I think, “Wow, last year he was not making eye contact this well and speaking this fluently.” And so I am constantly happy and proud.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.