Parenting Article 20 – Caring for a Physically Disable Child
The Physically Disabled Child
The physically disabled child is one who is disadvantaged by such conditions as asthma, diabetes, deafness, speech impediments, paralysis – from needing to use walking aids to being wheelchair bound- and many more. We seem to have a strong instinct to protect or cosset the disabled child from the hiccups of life. In truth, this child needs to be tougher than the average child to survive and lead a happy fulfilled life. If the body can’t be toughened the spirit can. Disabled children’s psychological, emotional and spiritual needs are the same as the able-bodied child. They have the same tendency to naughtiness, selfishness, moodiness and goodness as their siblings and friends. If their demands are constantly met out of sympathy they will become as obnoxious as any other spoiled child.
Pamela was a pretty six-year-old who wore callipers on both legs and propelled herself along at great speed with the aid of crutches. Unfortunately, Pamela was spoiled by the adults in her life: her parents, relatives, teachers and hospital staff. She was bright and talented but had difficulty relating to other children because of her selfishness and unfairness in playing games with them. What would this child be like at sixteen? I suspect she will be angry and embittered, feeling life has dealt her a raw deal. The adults in her childhood fulfilled her demands but her teen peers will find her to be a ‘pain’ and they will avoid her.
Getting the balance
Parents are usually very anxious that their child will go to regular schools rather than special schools so that they might mix and grow with and have as normal a life as other children. The trap they can fall into is in treating their disabled child too differently from her siblings at home and expecting too many concessions at school.
Philip was a thin, pale ten-year-old who had a fairly severe form of asthma. He was one of six children but got an unfair proportion of the attention of his parents and the other children felt it. Philip had his own dust free room while the other children doubled up. He didn’t play games outdoors and when he came out, he was well wrapped up, even in Summer. If he didn’t get immediate attention when he called for it, he’d have an ‘attack’ and then everyone ran to him. He missed a lot of school, more because he didn’t like school and manipulated his way out of it than that he was too ill to go. When Philip grew up his brothers and sisters had no time for him, they resented him. He eventually got married but his marriage broke down. He had become too self-centred; he could only relate to people on his own terms. He tried to manipulate the adults around him as he had manipulated his parents but they weren’t having it.
Children with disabilities don’t want to be treated differently. Encourage them to lead normal lives but don’t deny that they have some special needs, instead, help them to come to terms with this fact. Encourage them to mix with other children who have the same or similar disability and with whom they may feel a certain solidarity. If your child is going to a regular school this may mean joining a specific association dealing with her type of disability. In this way she will be comfortable socialising in all types of company and have the added opportunity of keeping in touch with up to date information about her condition. If the child goes to a special school try to ensure he gets opportunities to mix with able-bodied children by joining clubs or activities outside school. Many adults feel awkward when introduced to a blind, deaf or wheelchair bound person, they are at a loss for something to say. This wouldn’t happen if there was more mixed education and socialisation in childhood; they would learn to be comfortable with one another.
Let them experiment
Let your disabled child do all he can for himself. Let him experiment with public transport, going out with his friends to town, the cinema, etc. in the same way as you let his siblings’ experiment when the time is right. Your son may well give you heart attacks when you see him doing ‘wheelies’ in his chair and you think he’ll tip over and split his skull. But your daughter could also give you heart attacks when she is out on her skate-board or bicycle. Skill in these activities give them self-esteem among their peers and help them to discover their own limitations. You can make them as safe as possible by insisting they wear helmets and knee and elbow pads but don’t stop them because of your fears.
A fair share of attention
When you have a disabled child, it is particularly important for you parents to take time out individually and together. Continuously monitor the situation, with the help of someone outside the family if necessary, to ensure you are not focusing in on this one child to the detriment of the rest of the family. While the whole family acknowledges the special needs of this one child and all are encouraged to help, they too have needs which must be met. While some disabilities dictate a dependant lifestyle for the future adult, other children require training for future independence. One of the disabling factors can be an over anxious parent who is unwilling or unable to let go. Treat the disabled child the same as your other children where possible, encouraging and correcting, setting boundaries and letting go. Use the same parenting skills for all your children.