Part One of a five-part series for navigating raising a child with a disability.
*Note: This article series will also feature a series of corresponding blog posts from parents of children with disability. Read the first post here: A Dad's Perspective.
By Kelly Bonner
All parents have similar dreams and aspirations for their children. They want them to grow up, go to college, move out, find a good job, and raise a family of their own. But if disability is a part of the picture, whether it’s congenital or acquired, sometimes those dreams and aspirations change. Occasionally, due to the nature of the disability, this is a must. However, all too often these changes are made unnecessarily.
Parents have a huge impact on their child’s self-esteem and independence, and the aspirations they have for their child play a major role in the decisions the child will make throughout his or her life. Over the next several months, this series will take a look at the influence parents of children with disability have.
Self-esteem and independence can be two colossal concerns for children with disability. All too often, children with disability identify themselves using the labels society has inappropriately placed on them. In other instances, youth that are capable of being independent aren’t as independent as they could be and end up staying in their parents’ homes relying on them for far longer than those without disability.
But before we go any further, let me begin by saying, I get it! Not every disability is alike, and the term “disability” alone can cover a large range of ability levels. I realize that not every example I give may apply to your exact situation but, at the same time, I think there are some valuable truths that need to be explored and that, even if on a different level or to a different degree, can be applied to many situations.
Second, you may be wondering who I am and why I'm offering some guidance on how to raise your child. I am certainly no expert when it comes to childrearing, though I am not sure that a true expert in that field exists. However, I have worked in the world of disability and exercise for the last 15 years with numerous youth programs and with kids who have a wide variety of disability. For the past eight years, I have coached a track and field team for kids with physical disability, traveling around the country with them. Additionally, I happen to be married to an individual who has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. Finally, I have earned a Bachelor's degree in fitness and health from Samford University, as well as my Master of Exercise Physiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
While this still makes me no expert, I do think that my combination of education and experience have made some of the do’s and don’ts in this and subsequent columns in this series pretty clear. I want every kid to experience their full potential and have the opportunities and life experiences that they deserve. So, over the next five months we will take a journey together discussing five ways to help you raise your child with disability. I invite you to join us on this journey, provide feedback, and participate in the homework sections.
The five topics include:
1. Creating a positive self-image
2. Promoting self-determination
3. Teaching problem solving
4. Giving responsibility
5. Setting age appropriate goals and expectations