Are you an enabler?
Or do you create learned helplessness?
These are very important questions to ask yourself as a parent of a child with a disability. I have worked with several students who have had parents who were unfortunately enablers: encouraging and creating negative behaviors in their children.
But WAIT…what are these negative behaviors?
Can this issue be a matter of subjectivity?
It can be.
But, the most important question you should ask yourself is…
Am I enabling my child’s growth?
This brings me to one of my past students, James*. At the time, James was a student with autism in the 2nd grade. He was very smart and able to catch on to most concepts rather quickly, such as following the classroom routine and completing academic tasks. He also was able to effectively communicate his wants and needs. He would come in the morning, hang up his backpack and complete his morning work, with minimal redirection. As the weather begin to get cooler, he started to wear a jacket to school. On the first day he wore the jacket and it was time to go home, James handed me the jacket and turned around to put his arms out for me to put the jacket on. At first, I was very surprised. James was able to come in and hang his backpack on the hook and able to put the backpack on when it was time to go home. He also was able to take the jacket off and put it on the hook. So I would have never guessed that he needed help putting on his jacket. If this was an issue for him, it was not noted in his IEP. I am a firm believer in teaching independence early on, so I showed James how to put on his jacket hand over hand for a few days. His mother happened to bring him to school one day and I mentioned the progress that we were having of James putting on his jacket independently. She said, “I’m sorry. I am the one to blame. I put his jacket on every morning.” WAIT…WHAT? No wonder he turns around and puts his arms out! James was 7 years old, with a lot of independent skills, but his mother was still putting on his jacket. She also told me she dresses him every morning. He does not assist her at all. “It makes the morning go quicker,” she said. I was very disappointed. James was very capable of dressing himself for school and this included putting on his jacket independently. I believe that if a child is cognitively and physically capable of being taught independent skills, then they should be encouraged to be as independent as possible. Let them dress themselves. Let them feed themselves. Yes, it might take them longer. Yes, they made need to get up 15 minutes earlier. Yes, it may not be as great of a job as you would have done. BUT, it creates independence and not learned helplessness. Independence is the ultimate goal! So, please do not create learned helplessness in your children. Help them to become as independent as they can as children and adults. When you start early, children have more of a chance to be successful independent adults in the future.
*name has been changed