Five Ways to Empower Your Child with Special Needs

Kids with disabilities can accomplish amazing things when we believe in them. Here are five ways you can empower your son or daughter:

1. Expect your child to be responsible. In a recent blog I shared the story of Ben Underwood, a teenager who is totally blind. I was impressed that he told his mother, “But mom, I’m blind,” and she replied, “You’re going to do chores just like everybody else.” And in an interview for CBS, his mother said, “Why should he get a break? I don’t get any.” Ben has gone on to live an active, full life, and does nearly everything a seeing person can.

Now can I share a little secret with you? This is an absolute truth in my household. My son Kyle, who has autistic disorder, is the most responsible child in our family. Without being asked, at exactly the right time, Kyle will walk down the stairs from his bedroom and begin setting the table for dinner. He can do any task in the house. Before school, Kyle wakes up and dresses himself, makes his own breakfast, packs his own school lunch, and knows exactly when the bus will arrive. This was a child who, at the age of two, could not be controlled easily due to his tantrums. I’m glad I have expected him to be responsible. He always surprises me with what he is capable of accomplishing.

2. Teach your child to champion his own cause. When I was having lunch recently with the Executive Director of the Utah Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, she told me about a family whose young diabetic son was given a cape and told he was a super hero. They called him “Flash.” This little boy went on to speak in Washington to advocate juvenile diabetes research. His parents had taught him from an early age that he had “power.” They taught him that he had a voice. What a wonderful thing for a child to face life with the philosophy that “I can change the world.” This little boy isn’t the only kid who has been taught to advocate his own cause. Children everywhere are stepping up and speaking to congress and others in the hope of making a difference. But they have parents behind them who believe in them. It’s not hard to find ways to get involved. Check out websites affiliated with your child’s disability.

3. Ask your child for advice. This sounds really strange, I know. But if your child can talk and is able to reason, you should demonstrate that his opinion and ideas matter. Anything from asking, “Where should we go for dinner,” to “What could teachers do to make it easier for kids with wheelchairs?” will teach your child that you value his ideas. And you might just be surprised what she comes up with. However, this doesn’t mean burdening a child with adult problems.

4. Share stories of people who have lived with the same disability and succeeded. I’ll never forget when I took my oldest son to his first diabetes camp. He couldn’t believe there were so many kids that had the same disease. Prior to the camp, he had felt like the only boy in the world with juvenile diabetes. There were no other children at his elementary school who had it, and he felt like the odd kid out. Taking him to camp really opened his eyes and brightened his outlook. Yesterday I shared a story with him about a man with type I diabetes who climbed Mount Everest. (A blog on this to follow!) These stories empower kids and give them something to strive for. In return, you and your child should be examples to others who are not as far down the road as you are, and are fearfully dealing with a new diagnosis. If your child learns to reach out to other kids, with the message that “I’m okay and you will be too,” he’s going to empower himself.

5. Expect greatness. It always troubles me when people refuse to expect great things from kids with disabilities. I have already shared the experience where one of Kyle’s art teachers allowed him to doodle in the back of the classroom rather than insist that he complete the assignments. The attitude was, “Don’t worry, I know he’s autistic. It’s okay with me.” But it wasn’t okay with ME. I wanted Kyle to have the experience of using watercolors, charcoal, acrylic paints, etc., just like the other students. Kyle is a talented artist. He just needed someone to keep him on course in the classroom, and not assume he couldn’t do the work.

Find your child’s talents and strengths and seek out ways to let him shine. Can he play the piano? Does he have a singing voice? Could he perform for sick kids? Is she an artist? Could she make Christmas cards for other kids with her same challenges? Is he soft and caring with small animals? Could he have his own rabbit farm? It’s up to you to discover your child’s individual gifts and then provide opportunities for her to use them. Even a disabled child can make the world a better place. In fact, these special kids have been given a unique opportunity to do just that.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.