Building Independence in Your Child with Special Needs
What do parents with special needs kids desire more than giving their children a happy, social, and successful life at each stage of their development? They continuously strive, intensify their efforts, and try all possible chances to provide their children with the right tools that would prepare them for such an outstanding life. Yet let us face it! while exerting their utmost care, parents usually fall into the trap of being overprotective which ends up depriving their children of the most essential tool for their success; INDEPENDENCE.
Children with special needs should be taught how to be more independent. This is important for their quality of life, as well as yours. Take notes of the following tips:
- Target priorities: you cannot start teaching your child to be independent in every single task, all at once. Instead, tackle the most important task. When your child masters it, you can move on to another one.
- Break down any given task into smaller chunks: Let us take washing hands as an example. You may view it as a very simple routine task, however, it involves the following baby steps: going to the sink, turning on water, wetting both hands, placing one hand under the soap pump, pumping soap with the other hand, rubbing hands together, rinsing hands, turning off water, getting a towel, drying hands and putting the towel back.
- Use visuals: create cards for every single step of the task. Use these cards to remind your child of the right sequence of the task. It is recommended that you place the cards where the task is usually performed. For example, place the sequence cards of washing hands just above the sink at the level of your child’s sight.
- Set your child up to success: the most optimal way is to use backward chaining technique, which entails prompting all the steps for your child except for the last one. You focus on teaching your child to perform the last step of the task independently, Once the last step is mastered at an independent level, then move to the last 2 steps, then the last 3 steps. You proceed backward until your child is able to complete all the steps on his/her own.
- Withdraw yourself gradually from the picture: the level of the provided assistance should be decreased as your child grows more independent.
- Give it time: if it takes your child 15 minutes to get dressed on her own, start your morning 15 minutes earlier and stop racing!
- Adjust the environment: try as much as you can to make the environment-friendly and safe. For example, place knives and sharp tools out of your child’s reach while he is in the kitchen making a sandwich.
- Simplify the tasks: use raised tables for mealtime, so the distance would be shorter between the table surface and your child’s mouth resulting in better control over the spoon, replace buttons with zippers, get rid of shoelaces and use Velcro.
- Forget about the perfect performance: if your child spills while he is trying to eat independently, do not criticize him. Instead, teach him how to clean it up.
- Reinforce the positives and ignore the negatives: point out and praise your child if she is able to put on her shirt independently even if she cannot do the buttons. Praise your child’s effort even if the end result was not really satisfying.
- Share your goal with your child’s specialist: ask for extra needed tips.
Teaching kids with special needs may require some extra effort and time but seeing them growing more independent day by day will be worth it!