Thursday, January 31, 2008

Letting go while staying vigilant

How much about raising a child with disabilities is about "letting go"? Tuesday evening I went to a Family Panel on Transition, one of the "Informing Families Transition Series" presented by the Cark County Community Services Developmental Disabilities Program in partnerwhip with ESD 112, the Washington Initiative for Supported Employment and the Clark County Parent Coaltion.

The family panel featured a mother and one of her daughters, a girl in her late teens with Downs Syndrome and visual impairments. With the help and encouragement of a teacher, this girl now takes transportation on her own to various work and volunteer sites. As we learned, the girl was more "game" to do this than her mom. When her daughter first started using public transportation, her mom would stealthily follow in her own car to make sure that she got safely to her destination. Gradually, she realized that her daughter would not be left unattended by the bus driver(s) or staff at her destination, but that took an incredible leap of faith.

Children with special needs, including adults, are incredibly vulnerable and we moms must do a constant "dance of independence" to find the balance between protection and encouragng self-reliance. "Self-determination" and "Self-reliance" are both buzz words in the world of developmental disabilities, but the cold reality is that, to be safe, such self-reliance sometimes must be monitored, especially at first. This is never more true than when a child is unable to communicate potential or ongoing abuse. I think it is important while we encourage adults with disabilities to be independent we also respect the vigilance of their parents. I suspect that many parents, particularly moms, are "accused" of being overprotective of their children with disabilities - an unfair accusation.

One of the most heart warming parts of the panel was mom recalling the day that she called to arrange a van to pick her daughter up, and was told by the operator that her daughter had already done so, on her own, and done it correctly. It was also encouraging to learn how caring and competent the girl's teacher is. I knew that each school district has a program for 18-21 year olds to help studens transition to adulthood at full potential. But I didn't know that the teachers in these programs have as much to teach parents as they do their children.

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