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To Push Or Pamper

By Donna Addee (from one who listened to the experts)


    This article is taken from the book God'S SPECIAL CHIDL lessons from Nathan and other Children With Special Needs, written by Donna & Ellis Adee, with Tom Hunsberger. Mr. Hunsberger is a learning disorders teacher, national home education speaker and home educating father.

A forty year old man with the mind of a seven year old was asked to leave his apartment for senior citizens and the handicapped because of disruptive behavior. His brother reported that their father had never disciplined him. No one wants the man because he can't or won't control his behavior.

The experts at Kansas University Medical Center encouraged us to allow our son, Nathan, to do as he wished. It wasn't until he was six that we found that his mental and physical problems were from a genetic defect called Prader Willi Syndrome. The head neurologist told us kindly, "He won't be able to do much. Not even zip a zipper or button a button. Just take him home and let him be a happy, go-lucky kid. Don't expect him to do anything in school."

I was in too much shock to argue that Nathan was already zipping zippers and buttoning buttons. For a few years, we didn't expect much out of Nathan either at home or at school. We didn't push him. The experts told us that he couldn't or wouldn't be able to do anything. Phyllis, my teaching sister-in-law, who had tested him at six years said, "You must discipline him. Any teacher will work with a special needs child if he is disciplined, but if he is not, no one can help him."

There is a tendency for parents of children who have mental and physical problems to pamper them. Often professionals tell parents to be lenient. If there are other children in the family, they may be required to protect the child with special needs and do his chores. If this is encouraged without the special needs child learning discipline, they learn to demand extra ordinary privileges to the detriment of themselves and the family. My husband was raised in a family of nine children. His second oldest brother contracted polio at the age of eighteen months which resulted in a severely curved back and one leg shorter than the other. His parents spent much of their short supply of money, time and effort trying to get this handicapped son's physical problems helped. But they neglected to take care of a very special need: discipline. Being one of the smartest in the family, this brother soon learned to use his handicap to his advantage. He would start fights at school and his brothers would have to defend him. He was babied by father and catered to by mother. Physically he could handle heavy equipment and almost everything the other brothers could, but he lacked the discipline to stay with a job or relationship. If it didn't please him, he would walk away without a word of explanation.

Once we were made aware that Nathan could and should be expected to do his school work, clean his room and small chores, we realized he had acquired the 'talent' of avoiding doing what was asked. Since he fell asleep almost every time he sat down, it was easy to forget that he wasn't doing school work or his chores. We had to undo the mistake we made in allowing him to do nothing. After we found that Nathan learned very little by the end of second grade, we decided that we needed to get involved in his schooling. We found that he hadn't been told that he couldn't do the work but between his sleeping and unwillingness to do the work, they had allowed him to do almost nothing. From then on we told Nathan to bring home anything he did not finish at school. Nathan would bring it home and Ellis, who has more patience than I do, would spend 30 minutes convincing him that he was going to do the work. Nathan had learned to use his handicap to his advantage. His screaming, "I can't do it, I'm tired," or "I don't want to do it" became so bad some nights that I shut myself in the far bedroom. I couldn't' stand to listen, but Ellis would stay with him until he did it. That might take hours. If they didn't finish it at night, they would work in the morning. We had to undo the mistakes of several years and it was not easy.

Nathan, at eight years, started his own style of showing his dislike for the circumstances or rules. He would run away. The first time he was angry with his sister he ran down our country road toward the neighbors over a mile away. We should have spanked or disciplined strongly then, but he was so shaken up at the time we didn't. We were soon to regret the lack of discipline.

Later this same week we were at an out-of-town football game with our oldest son. We left Nathan and Chrissy with a teenage girl. In the late evening, the baby-sitter had told him and Chrissy to come inside to take baths for bedtime. Nathan didn't want to take a bath so he refused to come in with the girls. They went back for him but couldn't find him anywhere on the farm. They called my parents, who lived on a nearby farm and other neighbors to help look for him. After looking form an hour or more, the called the sheriff to help look. Our neighbor put in a call to the school where we were attending the game but we had already left for home.

It was a moonless, very dark night. Nathan still had not been found when the sheriff's deputy came flying over the hills at 85 miles per hour to help look for him. He almost ran over Nathan, who came out of the pasture a mile from home covered with mud and without shoes. The next day, Nathan showed us where he had walked near deep gullies and ponds. He almost cried about not finding his shoes. He had walked about three miles in total darkness and hadn't been scared. Again we did nothing except scold him. He seemed truly sorry. We thought that would be the end of his running away.

Running away became Nathan's escape when he was fed up with parents or problems. Usually once or twice a month, he would disappear. At first we would frantically look for him, but seldom could we find him. An hour or two later he would come home. He usually walked a mile or two from home. I feel that our lack of consistent Biblical discipline in this area was a bad mistake. We would not have allowed running away by our other children. Why should we expect less from Nathan? The medical professionals told us not to expect much and we thought that they were experts, but God's Book, the Bible, makes no exceptions with a handicapped child.

"For whom the Lord loves, He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? Every child is different regarding discipline. What works for one child may not work for the other. Once you find what works, be consistent. This is especially necessary for the special needs child.

Structured or Relaxed Schedule?

Nathan liked a routine. Changes upset him. Normal children are usually flexible but Nathan didn't adjust to changes easily. Once he decided on a certain way of doing things, it was a real battle to get him to change. He started telling us early in his life that he had to have a bright light in his bedroom so he could see when he woke up to do to the potty. His older brother, whose room was across the hall, was not happy
with the arrangement but with the door shut they could get along.

Structure and a consistent lifestyle give security to the special needs child. A regular routine with a consistent time for meals, sleeping, etc. goes a long way to build self-control. If they know that meals will
be served at a certain time, they are expected to be in bed at a definite time and every day they have chores to perform, they can build on that settled lifestyle. But if on the other hand food is eaten any time all day without the routine of a family sitting down together, thanking the Lord for the food and spending time sharing their day, the child never learns the self-discipline of routine. All children thrive on a schedule but especially the child with special needs.

Pampering Never Works

Proverbs has some excellent verses on discipline. One that is very pointed is 29:15 "The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."

(17)"Correct your son and he will give you rest. Yes, he will be a delight to your soul."

I'm convinced that often my lack of consistent discipline caused Nathan much grief. Sometimes it is easier to just ignore problems and to over-react to accidents or immaturity. As a mother, I know that in my
impatience with Nathan, I often yelled rather than took him by the hand and "helped" him carry out a request. He was constantly trying the limits, and being our youngest, I kept trying to fit him into the mold of his older brother and sister. Bathroom training was one of the hardest areas because he was almost ready to start school before he had that completely under control.

Tough love requires the parents, regardless of how mentally or physically impaired their child, to make discipline a must and that the discipline should be in the consistent pattern that God has set forth. Proverbs 6:20-23 says, "My son, keep your father's command, and do not forsake the law of your mother. Bind them continually upon your heart. Tie them around your neck. When you roam they will lead you, when you sleep, they will keep you,, and when you awake they will speak with you."

Ephesians 6:4 gives some cautions: "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." Because we feel sorry for our child, who has so much difficulty mentally and physically, we tend to give in to their demands. The earlier we start consistent discipline, the better prepared the child will be for life and accepting authority from other adults and for making decisions on his own. No matter how severe the handicap, a loving parent has to stand firm on discipline. To not do so will handicap the child in many more ways.

I told our children that God says in the Bible that if a parent loves a child he will spank them. They didn't agree or really understand that concept when I sent them out for a little green branch from the plum tree to use on the seat of learning. (I learned of the green switch from a Christian sheriff. He said, "It stings like all get out but doesn't damage the skin.") They learned that disobedience has consequences but
they raped the results of being able to go from complete dependence to independence.

  A child who has not learned obedience from a parent will not be able to move into the obedience of God. A parent is given the responsibility of preparing that special-needs child for the significant purpose God has chosen for him.

Consistent Biblical discipline in a structured home situation promotes a secure environment for all children but especially the child with special needs.