Character Development and the Special Needs Child
By Tom and Sherry Bushnell
As Christ-believing parents coming from a Biblical perspective, most of us would agree that Godly character training in our children is of utmost importance.
"Train up a child in the way he should go..." Proverbs 22:6
"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God..." Romans 3:23
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11
It is easy for some of us to become confused about disciplining our special needs children. These may be some reasons:
1. Professionals have convinced us that our disabled child is somehow immune to being too naughty. (The child canít help it.) Or, they may say that the children are incapable of comprehending the usual forms of discipline, i.e. spanking. These people obviously have not lived with our children!
2. Another reason may be that we as parents are not sure how much our child understands. We are afraid to mete out discipline to a child who doesnít know he is wrong.
3. A third reason may be that we have a tendency to close our eyes to his/her naughtiness, saying, "Oh, itís just a typical symptom of the syndrome," e.g. stubbornness, greediness, whining. (We would not let our other children get away with these, however.)
4. We may be afraid of getting "caught" disciplining. What would Dr. So and So say? What would my friend or relative who projects unearthly properties on my "special child from heaven" think?
Several years ago, we met a sweet mother who had raised her daughter with Downís syndrome to adulthood. We asked her, "What advice would you give us in regards to raising our special needs child?" She answered, "Treat him just exactly the same way you treat your other children." She assured us that it may not always be easy, considering the delays. "If your child is developmentally two years old, you should expect two year old behavior. Treat him just as you did your other children when they were two years old." This was a big relief to us. We were worried about learning how to raise a special needs child. Where would we learn? Who would show us the right way?
All this time we had the most complete manual in our own hands. The Bible, in its entirety, is our training manual. The Bible makes no distinctions between "normal" children and those diagnosed with a syndrome. As parents we are responsible to train, to the best of our ability, all of our children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of character training. The pressure of meeting I.E.P. goals are strong in our minds. Other priorities follow behind. Here are some practical reasons we have found to make character training a number one priority in our home.
1. We, or whoever lives with our child, must be able to do so with relative ease. A ten year old, two years old developmentally, who is always given his/ her own way will never progress to be more than a selfish two year old. For the sake of the family, we need to live in harmony!
2. If we are to homeschool our precious children, we must have control. We must be able to have them to do what we ask of them. How can Johnny learn his math if he consistently manipulates his way out of learning about math concepts? How can little Sally learn to walk if she flatly refuses to do her therapy exercises because itís "too hard"?
3. We love our children. We want what is best for them. We want all of them to grow and learn.
Some of my children fight new concepts tooth and nail. It is easier for me not to push. Sheela, who is blind, would rather not be potty trained or progress to the point of being independent in anything unless I pushed. She loves to be waited on! She literally yells and screams at us in frustration sometimes. We tell her to stop yelling and just do it anyway. She is so proud when she finally learns something new. Would she have learned on her own? Maybe, but through our firm, loving encouragement she is progressing toward independence.
It really is very simple. We can only hold our children accountable for what they already know, right? Each household has its own set of rules. Each of our children has some comprehension of what they entail and we pretty much know what each of them are capable of. The hard part is backing up the bark with bite! We have to follow through with consequences. If we say, "Sally, if you get into Mommyís china cabinet, I will have toÖ" (whatever the consequences) and Sally peers around the couch at us as we go back to our work, rolls over to the china cabinet and prepares to explore its realm, we had better not ignore Sally! Our children seem to know just how far we will go before we will dish out unpleasant consequences. If we set our standards high by backing up our rules, our children will be more comfortable in their home. And as all of us parents know, learning takes place most effectively for our children in the place they are happiest in.
In response to letters we have received these past few months, we felt it would be appropriate to ask these questions of you, our NATTHAN family. Some of you have already gone through these situations. We need input and suggestions. Included are several of the most common questions or solutions. We realize the sensitive nature of this subject. It is our sincere hope that through our webpage families will find encouragement and ideas.
A. My child bites. We have tried everything. Our other children are really resentful and do not wish to be around him. He wants to be included in everything so badly, but when he doesnít get his way, he bites. He is five years old (developmentally 3 years old).
B. My child has CP and a severe speech delay. He is eight years old. His desire to communicate is frustrating to him. He hits, pokes, and wonít listen when we ask him to be gentle. We use talking pictures. When his board frustrates him, he throws it (usually at the nearest person). Where do I begin? We love him dearly, but right now he is not nice to live with.
C. Our five year old daughter is blind. She bites and throws tantrums. I cannot take her hand to show her anything without her screaming and crying. She willingly explores objects on her own when she wants to. We can not go places in public with her because she refuses to walk. Weíve tried to show her how to use a cane, but she just drops it. She is very dependent on me (Mother), and I donít like to leave her for very long. Our pediatrician recommends we send her to the school for the blind. We want to homeschool. What are we going to do? Where do I start?
D. I cannot get my ten year old child with Downís syndrome to do any sit down work. In the past she has loved to do "school". Now she refuses, wanting to go play. We are excited about the prospect of her learning. Should we just let her play, or should we insist she do her school work?
E. My five year old son has ADHD. He is driving the whole family crazy. He is literally into everything. He is hard to control. How do I know how much he is able to control himself? His allergies and asthma complicate the situation. The medicine makes him even worse. When we have tried to discipline him, he invariably gets an asthma attack. Do other parents of ADD or ADHD children have this problem?
F. Any good suggestions for hair pulling and pinching? Our child is twelve years old, severly retarded, but otherwise healthy. She is approximately one year old developmentally, and is walking. She loves to be held and cuddled but has a mischievous streak. To get attention, she pinches and pulls hair. How have other parents coped with this type of problem?
G. My four year old son has had several surgeries in the last few years. The doctors say he isnít in pain, and I tend to believe him. My son seems happy enough until it is time to do something he doesnít want to do. His whining is nerve-wracking. We ignored it during the time of his surgeries, thinking it would go away. It has not. He is still weak physically, and we are afraid spanking would injure him. How do you cope with a whiner?
H. How do I handle my teenage sonís emotional tensions? He is moderately retarded, and quite large (larger than I). We need a solution.