One of the most important tasks of parents is to teach their children to be independent adults. As much as I love my children, my goal in raising them is to eventually have them leave my home and make their own way in the world.
What does the future hold for my child?
The reality is that some children with disabilities may never be able to live on their own. Others may be able to live with assistance, or in a group-setting. Still others may learn to manage their obstacles to the point that they can be entirely independent. Regardless of what future seems likely for our child, we must prepare them to be as self-reliant as possible.
“We don’t use smiley faces here.”
A very common tendency for parents of special-needs children is to hover over them, doing things out of habit that their children should be doing themselves. Or they treat them like they are much younger than their true age.
I am guilty of this. I will share one very embarrassing moment when I first met with Kyle’s Junior High School teacher. We were discussing possible motivators for him, and I mentioned how a “chart with smiley faces” had once been very successful.
I will never forget the look his teacher shot at me. “This is junior high school,” she stated plainly. “We don’t use smiley faces here.” I was mortified.
She was absolutely right. Kyle was twelve years old. Although some of his behaviors were child-like, he needed to be treated like a pre-teenager. For his own good. And I needed to readjust my thinking.
Teach your child independence!
Here are some guidelines for teaching independence to children with developmental delays:
1. Don’t do for him what he could do for himself. As you go about your child’s daily care routine, ask yourself, is this something my son/daughter could do? Why I am doing it myself instead of teaching him how?
2. Give responsibilities. What daily chores could your child manage? Could he hold a broom and push it around? Could she wipe the table with a cloth? Treat your child as though he or she is capable. He should have things to do around the house like everyone else.
3. Focus on basic life skills, and go from there. What tasks would your child need to know to someday live on her own? Can he fix himself food? Toilet herself? Brush his teeth and get dressed? Handle small amounts of money? Whatever she can manage, she should be practicing at home each day.
4. Don’t make excuses for your child. Remember in the account of Helen Keller how her parents, at first, allowed her to eat off their plates, throw tantrums, and receive candy when she screamed? It took the “miracle worker” teacher to show them they had spoiled their daughter by indulging her, making her disabilities far worse. Demand that your child behave and follow rules to the best of her ability.