When my son was three, he saw a psychologist for a consultation. She told me about a family who had a 27 year old daughter with Down Syndrome, living at home. After a discussion with the family and some observation, she determined that the daughter could be doing about 30% more on her own. At the time, I took the story at face value – a therapist sharing a story about another family to try to break the ice, make me feel comfortable. After the session, the psychologist’s words kept coming back to me. Was the story a gentle way of saying that my son too, could be 30% more independent?
My mom shared a story with me several years ago about how my aunt asked about her parenting philosophy. My mother had responded that from the moment a child is born, it is a parent’s responsibility to help that child to succeed on their own. This comment has stuck with me.
More than a year ago, one of my son’s teachers asked me what I saw Ben doing in the future. I was dumbfounded - he was 4 ½ at the time and my plan for dinner was not even on my radar, let alone Ben’s future occupation. I quickly asked what her son, who has Down Syndrome, would be doing in the future. She answered, chicken farmer! Her parents own a farm where they have spent much time and her son could use his skills there. I knew Ben would never be a chicken farmer – because then I would never visit him. But that question also sits in the back of my head, what will Ben be?
The three anecdotes point toward independence. It also means letting go, doing less, observing rather than participating.
In my former life as a college counselor/administrator, we always talked about students being more independent. We chided the “helicopter parents” who hovered over their child’s every move.
As a parent of a special needs child, we hover more like a stealth fighter jet, making sure our child is protected, safe and secure.
But then those words come back to me: 30% more independent, succeed on their own and what will Ben do in the future? I don’t think any parent or caregiver would ever intentionally hold their child back by doing more for them, but with a child with special needs it is sometimes easier, faster and less messy. And then there’s the possibility that they cannot do it anyway. Hmmm…I need more time to process this.