This week I was blessed to be able to hear Temple Grandin speak. I'd like to share some of the important lessons she shared with the group.
For those few of you who've never heard of her, here's a brief biography from Wikipedia:
"Temple Grandin is one of the world's most accomplished and well known adults with autism. She has a PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois and is a professor at Colorado State University. She is the author of six books, including the national bestsellers Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation. Dr. Grandin is a past member of the board of directors of the Autism Society of America. She lectures to parents and teachers throughout the U.S. on her experiences with autism, and her work has been covered in the New York Times, People, National Public Radio, and 20/20. Most recently she was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of the year. The HBO movie based on her life, starring Claire Danes, received seven Emmy Awards."
If you ever get a chance to hear her speak in person, I strongly recommend that you attend. I was learning so much so quickly that I pulled out a scrap of paper to take notes. You'll be learning more about this over the next few weeks. What she said was intended for those raising and teaching children with autism, but I believe these valuable lessons can be applied to anyone with a disability.
Lesson One - Stretch Them
When someone has a disability, those who love the person want to make the way easier. They want to pad the corners of the coffee table, remove obstacles, and eliminate consequences for poor decisions. In the short run, steps like these are helpful. Over the long term, they can create untold damage.
Every day, we all need to learn and grow. During our lives, we move backwards and forwards with skills and abilities. We do not remain in the same place. For example, I spent much of my life playing the clarinet. I recently tried after not having touched a horn in several years. My muscles tried to move in familiar patterns, but they were awkward and slow. My abilities had deteriorated.
Those with special needs must be encouraged to keep moving forward. One way to do this is through family responsibilities. Every child in the family should have chores. The household expectations must be for everyone to do their part. This teaches valuable abilities that lead to greater independence and higher self-esteem later on.
Those who don't fully participate to the best of their ability should expect consequences that are not removed no matter how much they demand or beg. When you remove consequences, you set up an unrealistic view of life. They will anticipate no consequences, and will be unable to cope when life hands them a difficult result. If they refuse to brush their teeth, they will fall out for a special needs child just as for a typical peer.
Then next time you're tempted to wipe out justice through your mercy, remember this fact. I've watched parents swoop in to "save" their children from the results of their actions time and time again, only to find the first real price they have to pay involves the police.
Don't let your unwillingness to let your child suffer a little pain lead to greater misery later on.