Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That Little Smidgen of Independence-Part Two

[Note:Please read yesterday’s post That Little Smidgen of Independence-Part One if you haven’t yet, before continuing.]
I think that yesterday’s idea leads one to a very important point for those of us connected in any way to the “disability” world. We all want that little smidgen of independence, control over our selves and our lives…. Yet the “I AM” of a person with disabilities (especially if it is a person with intellectual disability) is something so routinely ignored and obliterated that people are genuinely surprised when the person dares raise his voice in protest.
Now what I am writing next is more for parents and companions of those with intellectual disabilities, but I suppose anyone (ANYONE) can take the same ideas and apply them to parenting themselves.
A parent can not let a two-year old cross the street on their own. But somehow, either we will teach them to do it before they reach a certain age, or they will try on their own. And if they do not try on their own, there is something vitally wrong, no sense of self.
When I started nursing school several (SEVERAL) years ago, we had one student who only lasted a week. She wasn’t stupid. But she was emotionally handicapped so severely that she could not function in a dorming-in situation. She was so dependent on her mother’s advice (do I wear the green dress or the blue?) as to be completely incapacitated. Her self of “I AM” was buried lower than the titanic.
I always tell parents of pre-teens with cognitive disabilities that they must be pro-active in teaching their offspring. Because if you don’t teach them potentially dangerous things like crossing the street, riding the bus, and lighting the stove (which is VERY scary for parents to do…)… then the day will come when their child will try it on their own, without prior instruction, and that is OOOH so much MORE dangerous. I have mentioned this more than once on this blog.
But I want to take it a step further. That initiative of the child to try something should not be viewed as an enemy, an evil monster that we have to preempt. (Even though, for the child’s safety, we do need to aim to teach before they try and tackle lighting the stove and the like on their own.) But the urge to try something new should not be squashed. Not by parents, and not by staff. A person should not be rebuked for showing initiative. Even if he scared the wits out of you. You can explain that an activity is potentially dangerous, and that he needs to learn the correct way to do it, but don’t yell at him for trying, if YOU didn’t take the time to teach him!
In fact, we need to do the opposite: to encourage initiative and learning. [One can teach a child that they are more likely to succeed in new tasks if they gather information first, but it will only work if you cooperate when they want to try something new. And this doesn’t mean that you have to teach them how to do something you suspect is way above their ability. A child who wants to learn to fly an airplane needs to be informed that in order to succeed in this he needs FIRST to learn many other things…..] We actually need to praise them for trying things, asking questions, and saying what they think and want. Often, we as well need to stretch our pre-conceived notions of what is “possible” and what is not.
Along the same line one can appraise the manner in which we do present things that do need taking care of. A young adult does not need to clean up the discs and food wrappers he threw under the computer because I said so. He needs to do it because if he doesn’t, discs will get broken, and cockroaches will come. And since he is a part of a family, he needs to do his share in preventing damage just like anyone else. [Which reminds me of a friend who toilet-trained a capable older child in a day or two by simply explaining that she did not have the finances to buy both Pampers and pretzels, and he should pick which to buy.] The more you can show a child (including the “normal” ones) that what you are asking is really something he needs, the more cooperation you will get.
Of course, the biggest benefit of all this is that you will strengthen the “I AM” of the person you are dealing with. And while it will mean that he will therefore disagree with you at times, you are strengthening their will to succeed, their ambition to learn, and empowering them with tools that help prevent abuse. In my opinion, that’s a very good trade-off.
[Note: If you are reading this as a link from "Try This Tuesday", please forgive me. But attitudes may need to be tried as well...]


Anonymous said...


Jennifer said...

You are so wise, I hope I can remember all of these things as Aidan grows up. Thanks!