Be Your Child’s Advocate
Parents of children with cognitive disabilities must be their child’s advocate. They must be able to overlook negative comments made by friends, relatives, neighbors and shop keepers who suggest your child is spoiled, bad, or ill mannered. Just as some people take longer to learn to swim, read, or perform other tasks, your child with a cognitive disability or learning disability might need extra time to learn manners and other social norms.
Your child might talk to herself or make bizarre sounds while in waiting rooms, grocery store lines or other public places. This might be your child’s way of calming herself down. It takes a strong parent to side with her child when others deem the parent’s response as poor parenting. Some parents choose to explain their child’s behavior to others nearby who are offended by the child’s seemingly awkward mannerisms. In such cases something such as the following might be stated: “Excuse me but my child has special needs and she speaks to herself in unfamiliar surroundings as a calming mechanism.” Some parents have printed business cards with similar messages on them to distribute to outsiders in public who show scorn toward their child’s behavior. And of course other parents simply prefer to remain silent and ignore the derisive stares and remarks.
However you choose to deal with outside encounters, be aware that your child is a distinctive individual deserving of respect, in spite of her peculiar tendencies. Make it clear to your child that you are ready, willing and able to assist her in coping with her disability.
Older Kids Learn from Mistakes
When your 16-year-old daughter who has a cognitive disability spills her milk for the fourth day in a row while pouring it, or repeatedly spills the beads on the bracelet she is making, or slips when running down the steps, try to see these incidents as learning situations. Your child will eventually learn there is a more proper way of holding the milk container and cup to prevent the spills. She will learn a better way to bead her bracelet so that the beads don’t continue to slip off. She will learn to slow down on the steps when she’s in a hurry. You will need to show her, on occasion, how to do things more suitably, but after a few instructions leave the rest to her.
Letting go and allowing your older child with a cognitive disability to learn from mistakes can be difficult, but it can be helpful for your child and result in less management and direction on your part . . . which means a bit of added ease for you.
Provide your child the opportunity to make mistakes. Making mistakes offers her a chance to learn. How should I do this again next time? What did I do that caused this to happen? Your child learns naturally due to her actions.
You don’t want to be too pushy or take over the reins if your child isn’t managing her affairs sufficiently. Learning from mistakes is one effective way your child can learn and consequently change her behavior. Your child will learn to be more self confident when she makes mistakes and has the chance to alter her actions accordingly to avoid errors in the future. This pattern of learning helps her feel in control of herself and lets her know she has the ability to change for the better. Achieving these small successes leads to self-satisfaction. Asking "Would you like any help?" is a constructive way to determine if your child needs your assistance without being overly domineering.
Some behaviors and actions are not misbehavior, they may simply be mistakes. Misplacing a house key repeatedly, spilling food, forgetting to do a chore. Let your child know that making mistakes does not mean she’s bad, stupid or incapable. Let her know that mistakes are OK to make. Everyone makes them. When you make a mistake, let your child see you fix it. If you hurt someone's feelings, apologize. If you forget about a planned event between the two of you, show remorse rather than arrogance—let your child know you're disappointed about forgetting your get-together date and you'll make it up, Insha’Allah. This will help her to learn that a mistake does not mean failure. If your child makes a mistake, allow her to correct it.
View mishaps as learning opportunities for your child. Try overlooking the accidents and clumsiness. In many situations, trial and error is one of the best ways for your older child with a cognitive disability to learn life skills.
Children with cognitive disabilities take longer to master certain abilities than the average child. Although they may take longer to master certain skills others their age may have mastered years ago, they still have the potential to learn. This is important to remember when your child repeatedly has episodes of clumsiness or other accidents. Many children with cognitive disabilities have poorer dexterity and motor skills than others their age. This makes it difficult for them to do things one would think they should have little or no difficulty accomplishing.
If your child constantly spills drinks or drops food when preparing it, realize that it will take time for your child to improve in these areas. But with constant practice and your patience, your child should get better with activities she’s involved in.