Empowering Your Special Needs Child

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Every special needs child is different, because the challenges they face are unique to them. Here are three ways to help equip your child.

It was just a simple question.

But five years later, I still think about it nearly everyday. God used it to open my eyes, change my heart and motivate me to a new way of parenting.

My sister was visiting for a few days. One morning, toward the end of her visit, she watched as I poured cereal, as I did every morning, for one of my able-bodied, nearly preteen children.

“Why are you pouring their cereal?”

It was asked without a hint of condemnation. In fact, it was one of the most loving things she could have said to me.

The answer to that question was two-fold. First, it was a symptom of my people-pleasing ways. I enabled my children because I wanted to avoid conflict. I wanted to keep the peace and make them happy.

But, that’s only part of the reason. As the mom of two children with special needs — both physical and academic — I’ve felt the pull to somehow smooth their path, which has been marked by so many painful land mines.

God used that question to wake me up to the many things I was doing things for my children that they could — and should — have been doing for themselves.

My "help" was more about me and what I was comfortable with than it was about my kids.

It was a humbling, difficult, but motivating realization.

Since then, I’ve worked toward empowering my kids instead of enabling them. It has not been a perfect process. I still fall into old habits. I still make new realizations about ways I’m being an unhealthy safety net. But here are three things that I’ve found are helping to equip my kids:

Allow them to fail.  With special needs kids, this can be especially difficult because often the stakes can seem so high. How can I not rescue my child with learning difficulties? How will he or she ever get into college? I need to help him or her with that paper. I’ve got to bring them that book or homework they forgot.

Well, I’ve realized that unless I’m going to college with this child, then they aren’t probably going to do well once they get there. My job is to equip and coach, and yes, allow failures. Sometimes big ones. Every time I do this, I get incredible pushback and cries of, “You don’t care! You don’t understand! You have no idea how hard it is for me!” But pain is motivating. And as I pull back in certain areas — instructing and coaching, but not actually doing it — this child steps up and sees what they’re capable of. That is empowering.

Don’t make excuses for them. Every day, I’ve found I have to fight the temptation to cut my children too much slack. I don’t always demand things of them that I should because I know it will be hard for them. Or, that they’ve had a difficult day or week. I think we can limit them by our own low expectations.

Train them to “own” their treatment. I find the more my kids take charge of their own care, the less resentful they are toward their disease — and me. It gives them some control and power of a condition or difficulty that seems out of their control. Micah, my child with cystic fibrosis, has been sterilizing his medication equipment and scheduling his own treatment times for a couple of years now. What used to be a battle is no longer a fight. He has control over when and how it’s done. I just monitor to make sure he stays on top of it.

Every special needs child is different, because the challenges they face are unique to them. Every day, I pray for courage and guidance to navigate these amazing children God gave me.

He gives me the power I need.

Now it’s my job to do all I can to pass it down. 

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