Amy Julia stands outside and holds a young Penny as they grin at each other.

Helping Kids With Disabilities Move Toward Independence

For the moms who feel like they aren’t doing enough to help their kids (with disabilities) move toward independence, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. “Not enough” is never a helpful narrative.
    You are doing and giving more than enough for your kids.

  2. Supporting your child’s growth takes time.
    Lots and lots of time. And even more time if your child has a disability. Time is a scarce commodity. Often, you will need to enable your child in some way (zip up the coat, tie the shoelaces, cut the fingernails, brush the hair, etc.) in order to get the family out the door. That’s not you having bad boundaries. That’s you taking care of the whole family.

  3. BUT supporting your child’s growth does matter.
    Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the endless list of things you could be doing, choose one or two things that really matter to you–and your child–and work on those. For us, that included learning to sip from a straw back in the early days and putting medication in days-of-the-week containers and doing laundry in recent years. We’ve decided not to tackle buttons, ponytails, or nail-clipping, at least for now. 

  4. You aren’t alone.
    If you (and your child) pick one thing to work on, be clear about it with the other people in your child’s life too. 

  5. Remember that independence looks different from one child to another.
    In our family, for Penny to participate in unloading the dishwasher, we needed to change where we keep some of the dishes. Otherwise, everything was out of reach for her. 

  6. Use shortcuts when you (and your child) need them.
    There are lots of adaptive tools out there for all sorts of things, whether that’s a stool to help put things away on high shelves or a device that helps increase the ability to grip firmly.

Your child can probably do more for themselves than they do right now. BUT it also will take more of your time and attention in order for them to develop those skills. Your time and attention is in short supply for good reason, so just be gracious to yourself in only looking for one or two things to shift, ideally things that are meaningful to your child and to you. 

(Thanks to the reader who prompted this post with her question!)


Disability and Self-Care Skills: Nail Clipping
I’m Working on a Video Teaching Series About Disability and Family
Turning 18 and Guardianship Decisions

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