By ANNA WONG
Being a parent in the 21st century is no easy task, more so if you have a child with a learning disability. When the child is a toddler, parents are often concerned about how the child will cope in school. When the child grows up, they worry about skills-training, employability and independence.
I have a special daughter who is now 17 years old. She was diagnosed with having delayed motor and speech development. Her challenges were not too severe but nevertheless, she was still regarded as being a slow learner.
My journey was going to be very different than that of a “regular mum;” I would have to change my priorities and teach her a different set of skills. Of course, I didn’t have the wisdom then as I still followed the “old rules,” one of which was getting her to be school-ready.
Upon diagnosis, we began sending her to the relevant therapy sessions. When she was approaching school-going age, I started to give her “intensive tuition,” hoping that she would catch up and be able to fit into the normal school system.
Needless to say, my plan didn’t yield the required results. I went crazy looking for different schools that would take her but in the end, a learning centre that uses the “home-schooling programme” was the best choice.
She is now 17 years old and I am still learning to be a better mother and friend to her. There are certainly some skills which I ought to have placed more importance on. However, I have also learnt not to be too hard on myself. So, at this stage, I find that it is critical to polish up on the following skills:
a) Ability to ask for assistance
There was a day when I found that her bedsheets were still in the washing machine after she had hung up all her clothes. When I asked her why she had not completed her tasks, she said she couldn’t manage those “big pieces of cloth!” As far as she was concerned, she needn’t do what she couldn’t do. It didn’t occur to her to ask for assistance.
It finally dawned on me that she was neither forgetful nor lazy when she didn’t complete her home assignments. She didn’t know how to do them! And her refusal to attempt a new task – don’t know how, too difficult, no need to proceed further!
In real life, there would be many, many times when one would have to ask for help. And your survival probably depends on how fast you get external help! So now I ingrain in her that as soon as she feels she is unable to perform a task, she would have to ask for help. And now she is always asking for help - so much so that I think she may be “misusing” this new skill!
There are still times when she is unable to control her emotions and at her age, it is rather critical to help her in this aspect. It was excusable when she was seven years old, but now, it should not be tolerated. I would have to admit that I also do not want to be embarrassed anymore by her tantrums in public. This is a difficult skill to acquire so I have to be patient with her.
Before we go anywhere or do anything new, I will tell her what is expected of her and the consequences if she is unable to contain her negative emotions. Things are better now but occasionally she will lose it. However, now I am a step ahead, and I will quickly get her to “execute her calming strategy” and she would be able to relax. It works most times, but still needs improvement. I would only deem it successful when she is able to control her own negative emotions.
c) Making decisions
Many a time, we make decisions for our children, thinking that they are not ready or they wouldn’t be able to decide. How wrong can we be? Decision-making is part of life and this is just one of the many survival skills that we have to teach them.
For the younger kids, it could be, “red shirt or blue shirt?” and as they grow up, perhaps we could ask them to pick a restaurant to have dinner in. We will have to break down the process and guide them step by step on how to arrive at a decision. And part of the complete process is also to help them understand the consequences of their decisions. While we are still around, we will have to give them plenty of opportunities to practise this skill. At this point, we can still correct them and help them improve on their decision-making skills.
It is difficult but as I journey, I also learn. I keep on looking ahead and plan the essentials. Although I am positive, I am also realistic and know that perhaps, my daughter will never be totally independent. Then again, I know that as long as I do my best, God will do the rest!