If there’s one piece of advice I have for fellow special needs parents, it’s this – we can’t place limits on our kids.
Now, I don’t mean we shouldn’t have rules or set boundaries for them. All kids need boundaries and rules as they grow up, together with expectations for behaviour.
The limits I’m talking about, are the ones we place on our kids based on their diagnosis.
We may not be aware of placing any limits on our kids. We may not recognise the expectations, assumptions, beliefs and views we unconsciously hold regarding their abilities. However, we all hold them, parents and providers alike. It’s natural to do so, we are all human after all. But, we need to be careful that these thoughts and feelings don’t impact adversely on our kids and prevent them from fulfilling their potential.
I remember many years ago now, receiving an invitation for my son to attend a birthday party at an adventure park. The day involved being outdoors and climbing using harnesses and ropes. At the time, I couldn’t see how my son would be capable of participating, let alone enjoying the day. In my mind, his albinism would prevent him being outdoors for too long and his vision impairment would make climbing too dangerous. So, we came for cake but didn’t head off with the others afterwards to the adventure park.
I came to regret that decision as the kids hurried off excitedly to the fun part of the day. I realised I had made a decision on my son’s behalf and hadn’t even given him the chance to give things a go. Which is why, a few months later, we accepted an invitation to an ice skating party. It was no less dangerous or difficult for him, but I understood that it wasn’t my place to judge what he could or couldn’t do.
It’s his job to do that, not mine (and, it turns out, he quite enjoyed the ice, despite my concerns).
In the years since, I’ve taken on that learning and have worked with him to accept new opportunities and experiences. Together, we moved him out of the special education sector, into a mainstream classroom, even though we held doubts he would be able to cope. Despite our fears, we knew we owed him the opportunity to give it a go and to be judged on his merits, not by the expectations of his various diagnoses.
Fast forward seven years, and he’s an involved member of his gifted and talented class at his local high school. He has a tight knit group of friends. He’s respected by his classmates and he’s holding his own in an accelerated and extended classroom.
If we had’ve followed the expected education trajectory for him, in a special education setting to support his various needs, he would not have reached his potential. It would have been the safe and expected journey but it would not have been right for him. It would have placed even more limits on his capability, purely based on perceptions of his ability, due to his disabilities.
This is just one example of how we may unconciously place limits on our kids because we’re not confident in their ability to cope or survive a new situation.
In many cases, our kids don’t want to be pushed into new experiences. They’d rather stick to what they know, which is completely understandable. However, if we don’t give them the chance to try new things they will never know what they are capable of and we’ll never develop the confidence to push them further.
It may not always be appropriate or achievable, but we owe it to our kids to put our assumptions to the side and give them the opportunity to see how far they can go. There are so many limits already placed on our kids. It’s not fair for us to add even more to their heaving pile.
My advice to fellow parents? Stop making assumptions. Don’t assume your child is incapable because of their diagnosis. Don’t assume they will not enjoy an experience because of their needs. Don’t assume they can’t be successful because of their disability.
Instead, we need to be their cheerleader, their support crew and their roadie. We need to champion their dreams, open up paths of possibility and provide the supports they need to thrive.
We owe it to our kids to lead the way and show them a life out of the box of special needs, disability and assumptions.
It all starts with us. That’s why we can’t place limits on our kids.