Life can be tough for children with special needs. As parents we often grieve for losses which were never an option. For example, an athletics-focused parent of a wheelchair-bound child may grieve the loss of an Olympic opportunity.
There are a few ways to look at this. First of all, it’s a little selfish for a parent to expect their child to fulfill their dreams. Children are there for their own sake, not to give their parents a second shot at goals they may have missed. While I’m sure that these plans aren’t intended to cause harm, it’s very clear that they do.
Secondly, it’s unfair to put expectations on a child at such an early age – and especially unfair to do this when the child is in the womb. I know parents who mercilessly put their children through music or swimming practice with the intention of creating a maestro or champion. It’s rarely successful and often the pressure of having to perform when their friends are out having fun pushes these children away from their parent’s pet subjects – and ultimately away from their parents.
Thirdly, why are we writing off the child’s future with the idea that they will never achieve a specific goal? Surely the para-olympics have taught us that even the most physically disabled people are capable of amazing feats.
Of course, it’s easy to point out these things when looking at physical disabilities. We can clearly see the impact that science is having on this area in terms of supports such as wheelchairs, prosthetics and even corrective surgery.
It’s much harder to understand how parents discriminate against their own children by writing off parts of their future when the child has invisible special needs.
I see this all of the time in the autism community. Parents decide that their child will never get married or will never be able to live independently. They worry about the long term future of their children and become depressed and uninspiring parents whose mental state does nothing for their kids.
Even worse, their vision of the future may become a self-fulfilling prophecy because they take all of the appropriate action to ensure that their children never stand a chance. A parent who decides that their child with autism won’t become a swimming champion may withdraw them from valuable and potentially life-saving swimming lessons.
In some cases, the depression even sparks a murderous rampage which terminates the life of a child because of a lack of imagination and acceptance on the part of the parent. I’m sure we’ve all read of stories like that in the newspapers. They all start with the smaller emotions of disappointment and resentment.
In the invisible special needs world, we have labels. For some strange reason, many parents think that once their child has a label, all of the symptoms and conditions of that label apply. This is silly – it’s unlikely that anyone has “all” of the symptoms that their label dictates.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against labels – in fact, I’m very much in favor of them. Labels can be very handy for obtaining funding and for handing your child over to a new teacher without a three hour discussion. It’s just that many parents see labels as a list of limitations rather than guidelines for negotiating their child’s difficulties.
A label will tell you what things are likely to be difficult for your child – not what they can’t do.
For example; it’s clear that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have social difficulties. Perhaps it’s even implied that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome might have difficulty forming lasting relationships although personally, I know plenty of aspies who have gotten married and stayed that way too.
What irks me is when I see a letter from a parent saying; “My twelve year old son has Asperger’s Syndrome and will never marry – what can I do to make sure that he is cared for after I die?”
Seriously. How can you write off your child’s future at twelve? The majority of the things which are possible for the general population are also possible for your child with invisible special needs. Concentrate on what they need in the present – not what they might lack in the future.