When someone has intellectual/developmental disabilities it may be a natural inclination to do things for them, either because they cannot do it themselves or it’s just easier for the caregiver/parent to do it. What I’ve discovered in my own life is more often than not my son CAN do something for himself – although it’s not always the same way I would do it and the first few times may be messy. However, it seems like he’d rather have me do it – and, if we’re being honest, who among us doesn’t like to have things done for us.
I didn’t catch on at first, it wasn’t until I got feedback from teachers about what he was doing at school that it dawned on me – he can do much more than I’ve given him credit for. So I started “testing” him; and more often than not it seemed like he would try to wait until I gave in and just did it (laundry, cooking, etc).
As adults if we don’t get groceries and/or cook we’re probably not going to eat (not considering going to get fast food). This is a natural consequence, and I wanted to know if my son could understand it. So I stopped cooking separate meals (I had someone who was helping him learn to cook); and I told him I needed him to tell me what he wanted from the store. At first it was the same thing every week, more like a habit than what he actually wanted, but a start is a start. I would review his list with him before going to the store, opening cabinets and the fridge to see if there was anything else he wanted/needed.
I don’t remember just how long it took, it wasn’t quick; but now his lists will include things like toilet paper, body wash & toothpaste – not just food items. Occasionally I will need to go over the list with him again, walk him through the cabinets to show him what we already have; but I think this is a price worth paying to help increase his independence.
Next was laundry – which I didn’t think I’d ever feel comfortable allowing him to do. In Frederick, MD the SUCCESS program teaches their students how to do laundry, and they shared he was doing it on his own (with supports). So we added this to his list of things to do. Previously I had stopped going into his room to get his laundry, if he didn’t put it outside his room on Saturday night (I do laundry on Sunday) he had to wait until the next week to get clean clothes. Now he is doing his own laundry.
Not only is he well on his way to living on his own (with some supports), he’s started seeking out additional ways he can be independent. Most recently he used public transportation to get to/from school – even though it requires him to wake up 30 – 45 minutes earlier. It’s important to me that he learn these skills, because I know I’m not going to be able to do things for him forever.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was saying there was no way he’d ever be able to live independently. Although it may not be the same independence I have, I have changed my tune. Sure, he’ll likely have support staff come to ASSIST him, and there will likely be things he may never be able to do; but between technology and continued instruction I’m now confident there will be a time he doesn’t “need” me to be anything more than his dad. As parents we want what’s best for our kids, but sometimes I believe we can help them most by getting out of their way.