Parenting children

Parenting Solutions: Life Skills for Special Needs Teenagers

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Parenting solutions for special needs children are not always easy to come by. Raising a child with Asperger’s, sensory integration disorder, ADD, or another disorder often resembles a topographical map: a lot of hills and valleys, a few grassy plains, and a riot of beautiful colors spread haphazardly throughout. But just when you think you’ve found your way through the therapy maze and begun to understand your child, they up and turn into a teenager!

How do you explain to a teenager with Asperger’s that his inability to see things from the other’s point of view is turning off his friends? Or how do you reason with your teenage SID daughter who refuses to bathe frequently because she hates the feel of a shower and loathes getting undressed for a bath? And when your 14 year old ADD ‘er crashes the party with his special brand of impulsivity, you may feel more embarrassed than he does.

The first thing to do is remain calm. Even though it may seem as though your teenager’s behavior is unbearable or intolerable (and what parent of a teenager doesn’t feel like that at some point in their teenager’s life!) generally it isn’t. It may be very difficult, it may even be downright unpleasant, but it’s unlikely to be fatal, or you probably would have been flat on your back, feet up in the air a long time ago.

Maintaining perspective will help you view the situation as an opportunity to teach your child the right way to behave. By looking at these challenging behaviors as opportunities to help your child achieve further independence, you will be less likely to instigate a battle or begin an ineffective campaign doomed to failure.

Some other important things to consider:

Respect your teenager’s desire to be independent. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the child that we advocated, argued, struggled, and cried for is no longer willing to take the back seat. This is a child who despite his weaknesses, still insists on sitting in the driver’s chair. It’s crucial to remember that even if your child has disabilities, he still desires and needs to struggle for independence as much- maybe even more so- than a typically developing teenager.

  1. Plan for small successes. True growth does not happen in a day, a week, or even a month. Lasting change takes time to implement, time to foster, and more time until the change is no longer a “change” but the way things are. Plan goals that are small, yet successive, and make sure your child is at least 80% successful while you are working with them. It’s hard for anyone to fail, but teenagers are especially sensitive to failure. They are often unable to see the big picture, and will feel that if they have failed once then they are doomed to failure forevermore.
  2. Focus on your child’s strengths as well, not just on their weaknesses. It’s easy to see so many things to fix that your forget this is not about fixing what is broken, but about building what has yet to be completed. Your child is more than the sum of her differences- it is exactly these differences that make her who she is. Try and find a way to use her differences in a positive way. The same child who would rather be alone because she is uncomfortable with people could make a great web designer or computer programmer. Maybe your 16 year old likes to cook, and sometimes helps you out by cooking dinner occasionally. Can you find a chef or a caterer who would be willing to teach her once a week? Could you nurture a future business by allowing her to help cook for family events and get-togethers?
  3. Develop goals in a variety of areas. Your child may need a lot of guidance with social skills, but you would be wise to include a variety of areas for him to work on. A well-rounded goal plan is more interesting, more effective, and easier to plan for. You can even try and integrate several goals in one activity, though this is not always necessary or possible. Some possible areas to work on:
  • self-care skills (grooming and hygiene, appropriate dress for the weather or occasion)
  • medication management (your teenager needs to be aware and responsible of what medications she takes, their side-effects, and how they help her)
  • social skills (this also includes understanding society’s rules and your rules about dealing with the opposite sex)
  • symptom management (this includes understanding his disability, as well as being able to advocate for himself)
  • educational and career training (what educational or career goals does your child have? All of us desire to be contributing members of society, and your teenager is probably no different. Help her identify what she likes and/or is good at doing. Then brainstorm with a career counselor or look online for possible careers or occupations.

5. Allow for immaturity too. Like most teenagers, your teenager might switch between a desire to do everything - or nothing- on his own. Even though it’s frustrating, it is normal. Build in some special one-on-one times where he is allowed to choose the activity and just be himself. Include reasonable rewards which show you recognize how hard he is working. And even though they may act like they don’t need it, don’t forget to show him how much you still love him. Write notes, pack a favorite lunch, do him a favor and drive him when he normally walks. He may not gush with effusive thanks, but he will definitely appreciate it- and probably thank you for it when you least expect it.

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