Set Age Appropriate Goals and Expectations
By: Kelly Bonner
We have finally made it to the last step. I hope this process has been helpful and that you have learned some valuable information along the way. And that maybe, just maybe, you are beginning to see some progress with your child. In my opinion, this fifth and final step is the most important and why I have saved the best for last.
I have known teenagers that couldn’t do things that were typical for other teens their age, even though they were mentally and physically capable of doing them. Here’s an example: say your child was on a bowel and bladder management program. Occasional accidents can be expected to happen, but when they become not so occasional and beyond that when the child doesn’t know how to clean up themselves, that places a large gap between them and their peers. I feel like situations like this set youth with a disability apart from their peers more than any other characteristic or attribute. The only reason why these teens couldn’t do certain things was because it was never expected of them. Maybe their parents had low expectations or maybe it was just easier and faster for the parents to do it for them. Either way it has now created an obvious social gap between the child and his or her peers.
As parents, we need to set realistic goals and expectations for our children. This doesn’t mean that they have to look exactly like their siblings, but they should certainly have some similarities. Tying their shoes, transferring, cleaning themselves and their cushion after an accident, even driving a car should probably be on the list. Expectation can be vital in developing who they become. If you don’t ever expect your child to stop depending on you, they probably never will. If those expectations don’t first come from parents, one of two things might happen. First, members of society won’t do it because they aren’t sure what’s considered acceptable and your child will remain in their current dependent state. The second option is that society might handle these things for your child. Someone will come along and expect it; like a teacher, coach, or potential girlfriend or boyfriend and it will be a rude awakening and potentially awkward situation for your child. What if your child’s physical education class is doing a yoga session? Your child can do everything herself; get down on the floor, follow the instructions, but when all the students start putting their shoes back on she just sits there. Not because she isn’t physically capable of putting them on herself with a little ingenuity, but simply because she’s never been expected to before today.
As a parent, you need to start taking note of the things your child’s peers can do. Do they set their own alarm in the mornings? Do they fix their own breakfast? Do they pay for their own meals when they are out with their friends? Do they drive? If so, then these are all things that your child needs to start working towards. Now some of these things are not a one-step process. If your child is going to learn how to drive, they first need to know how to transfer into a car, take their wheelchair apart if they use one and get it in the car all by themselves. There may be some mental steps you need to work on with them as well. Take the example of paying for their meal when they are out with friends. Maybe they don’t typically carry a wallet because they easily lose it. Maybe they get nervous when handing the cash over to the cashier or maybe they don’t know how to give an appropriate tip. These are all stages that need to be worked on before they are sent out for the first time with their friends.
The best advice I can give is to be open about the expectations you have and talk to your child about them. Let them know what you expect from them. If you have expectations that one day your child will be able to tie their own shoes, let them know. That way you both can work together to start achieving those goals. Maybe you help a little less every day or maybe you only step in when they have failed and are getting frustrated, but you still aren’t there to be a super hero flying in to save the day—you are there to teach and equip them for self-learning.
This leads in perfectly to possibly one of my biggest pet peeves and my last words of advice. Whenever possible, treat your child age appropriately. Talk to them like you would any other child their age. Every graduation is another rite of passage. Seniors don’t act like freshmen, and if they did they would probably have a hard time making a lot of friends in their class. Well, the same is true to for kids with a disability. In my experience, kids can easily look past the disability. They don’t really care if their friend uses a wheelchair or if they have a visual impairment, as long as they have common interests. Help your child act as age appropriately as possible by treating them as age appropriately as possible. And you know what? They will probably make a mistake, but most kids do (disability or not), and maybe they will learn from their mistakes. They should at least be given that opportunity because how can we follow through on step number five and expect more out of them if we are still treating them like a child.
I know that every child and every disability is different, but I have seen many youth with a disability grow up, thrive and be successful and independent when raised in the right environment. All too often, I have seen the exact opposite happen. I think parents get off the hook far too easily when it comes to their child with a disability. It’s like this faux pas topic that no one is willing to address. If we want this world to be a better place for our kids to grow up in, we also have to make our kids better prepared for this world.
We’ve now addressed the topics no one really wants to bring up. I get it, your plate was probably already full enough dealing with everything else that some of these things probably never even made it to your list. Maybe now you will find a way to work some of the steps in this series and your child will be off to college and finding a place of their own before you know it.