Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Person Centered Parenting

Person Centered is a term that is used a lot in adult services.
Basically all it means is that the person is a part of decisions that affect his/her life.

"Nothing about me without me" - is the mantra of this philosophy.

It makes a lot of sense. As adults we need to know how to choose what is right for us in many different situations. We need to make informed choices to keep ourselves safe as well as to be productive members of society.

People with special needs also must participate in the decisions that affect their lives. While it may be easier for parents to make decisions for their child in the short run, in the long run they may be short changing the child from learning essential adult life skills. Taking the time to allow the older child/teen to choose between a menu of acceptable options reinforces his sense of himself and empowers him to stand up for what he wants/needs.

Even young children can be offered the opportunity to choose between a couple of different sets of clothing to wear or what to eat for breakfast from two or three different cereals. Making these small choices reinforces the child's developing self esteem.

While choosing routine items is a good start it is important that the parent include the older child/teen in the larger decisions that affect his life - whether or not to go on to college if that is a realistic option, what courses to take in high school, or even as simple as when to call a friend on the phone. This is not to say the child gets to choose to stay home from school for example or watch TV all night - but rather the child is offered choices that are reasonable and within his level of understanding. Does he want to finish his homework before he goes out to play - or play for an hour before starting his homework. If he chooses the later he MUST be able to re-focus on home work. If the parent knows the child is not ready for this decision then don't offer it as an option.

Ultimately we want our children to become adults who understand themselves and feel empowered to make decisions that are in their best interest. Beginning this process in childhood is essential particularly for the child with special needs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tools for Parents

Parents of teens with special needs face a unique conundrum...

How do I encourage independence and keep my child safe?

There are a number of skills your teen must know in order to safely use the community.

1. Management of personal behavior - your teen MUST be able to control themselves and handle life's little frustrations in a socially acceptable way. Yes, I understand that your teen has special needs - but guess what? - the world doesn't care...If he doesn't know how to speak, maintain personal space, and even look at others in ways that are typical then he/she will easily
be targeted by strangers.

2. Speaking of strangers - your child MUST know who to trust - essentially NO ONE who you do not know. My rule of thumb for my students is - do NOT get into a car or go anywhere with anyone who doesn't know your parents. Do NOT believe anyone who tells you they know your parents if you do not recognize them. This brings us to # 3 - when in doubt call!

3. Carry and use a cell phone - Your child MUST have a cell phone that works were he will be (in the mall/at a park/sporting event). He/she must know how to use the phone and you or whomever you have designated must be around to receive that call. Bottom line you want your teen to reach for the phone and call you whenever they are faced with the unknown - when they are unsure of what to do next.

4. It is essential that your teen spends time at a variety of community businesses with you in order for you to teach him/her what will be expected. I urge you to set up practice trips in which the goal is to learn community behavior NOT to accomplish a chore or make a purchase. When your child (I've switched to child as this is optimally occuring at 6-8-10 years of age - but it is NEVER too late) is comfortable walking around a business without touching, running, knocking into people or requiring you to hold their hand THEN together you two can decide to make a purchase on the next outing. This is a GREAT time to incorporate earning money by completing a chore at home to have the money for a desired purchase...but more on that on the next posting.

Today in the grocery store I witnessed one of the things I hope this blog will allow parents to avoid. An older woman was carefully shopping with a younger woman. They were deciding which type of bread to purchase. I only noticed them because the store was so crowded and I was trying navigate around them BUT when they finished choosing the older woman took the younger woman's hand and "pulled" her down the aisle. (Please note in 20 years it will be a younger person holding onto that same woman who will now be the older one!) This young woman needs to be taught how to walk in a store, stay with another person, avoid hazards, etc. - NOT to be led around by her hand even if it's done gently.