Setting and Achieving High Expectations
Setting and Achieving High Expectations
Marta and Sophie are both young adults with similar abilities. When dining out with their families, however, this is what occurs:
Upon entering the restaurant, Marta’s father takes her by the hand and leads her to her seat. He hands her the IPad so she can play games while ordering for her. When other family members ask questions about Marta, her mother answers for her. Marta eats with her fingers and does not use a napkin during her meal. When Marta begins squirming and making noises, Marta’s mother takes her to the restroom without asking what she needs.
Sophie walks independently into the restaurant and chooses her own seat. Her mother asks her what she would like to eat, showing her pictures on the menu to help her choose. When family members talk to Sophie, she responds by pressing items on her IPad or through simple words and gestures. She says “please” and “thank you”, uses her utensils, and keeps her napkin in her lap. When Sophie becomes bored with the conversation, she signs “restroom” and locates it herself with limited assistance.
Related: Independence and Self-Advocacy
Why are Marta’s and Sophie’s experiences in the restaurant – and possibly their lives in general – so different? My guess is that it has to do with EXPECTATIONS. I discussed this theory with teachers and therapists in my area and was shocked to hear that they estimate that only about 10% of parents put reasonable demands on their children. Most parents do things for their children, instead of expecting their children to do for themselves.
Possibly because the doctors did not provide a clear ‘label’ early on for my daughter dictating therapies and other services, or because I was determined that she would not have any unnecessary constraints on her progress, I have maintained high, but reasonable expectations for her. I chose to ignore reports stating that my daughter’s progress would be stunted and forged ahead. My daughter, Kailee, is now 20 years old and functions much like Sophie, except that she has more language. She has had two jobs – working at Olive Garden for two years, as well as a preschool classroom. I am proud to say that Kailee is an outspoken, independent, and well-rounded young woman.
So, how did we get here? Early on, I was lucky to have good role models and mentors. A friend once told me that “special education is important, but life skills are even more important.” His young adult son was employed in the mall food court and was extremely happy with his life. When he said that, I thought about who would be in the best position to build the skills Kailee needed to be truly successful at home and in the community – and realized it was me. If I wanted my daughter to thrive and have the best life possible, I needed to make that happen. These are the things I learned:
Expect Success and Independence
Steven Covey coined the phrase “begin with the end in mind”. The end, in this case, is our children living as happily and independently as possible, given their unique abilities and challenges. Our expectations may include them advocating for themselves, taking care of their own needs, engaging in productive work, and participating fully in day-to-day activities. From the outset, we expected Kailee to have the same goals and opportunities as her older sister. That included college, a fulfilling career, and quality relationships. Kailee wants to be a therapist, working with young children with disabilities, and we have no doubt that will happen. When we set our sights on such goals, we are more likely to achieve them.
Don’t Let Others Get You Down
As parents, many of us have heard discouraging evaluations of our children’s potential from doctors, therapists, and teachers. We may also experience a lack of support from family members and friends as they hint that we should lower our expectations. For example, when Kailee and I finished our meals at an event we were attending, I asked her to throw away both of our plates. I knew this would require her to ask someone where the trash can was. Others immediately intervened, offering to take it for her and looking at me as if I had two heads. Whether the discouragement is overt or subtle (as in my example), we need to not allow it to interfere with our mission to empower children.
Learn How to Teach Your Child
Children with special needs can learn almost any skill with the right support. As parents who interact with our children day-in and day-out, we need to know how to teach – how to break skills down into smaller, teachable parts; change the environment and use visuals to support learning; model, prompt, and gradually shape skills, and provide reinforcement and correction. For example, I wanted Kailee to learn to make her bed. To help her, I attached felt squares with the numbers 1 and 2 to both the top corners of her bedspread and her headboard. She simply had to match them to get the covers on right. We practiced daily, with me reminding and encouraging her until she had it down. Now she can make any bed, adding throw pillows and all. We do not have to depend on professionals to teach our kids. See this video about the role parents can take:
Avoid Giving in and Giving Up
Maintaining high expectations and supporting our children’s learning every day is tough. It is much easier to do things for our children than to teach them to do things for themselves. It is much easier to give in to demands and let our children do what they want (e.g., play hours of video games) than to hold our ground. When Kailee was younger, she wanted to participate in sports such as cheerleading and soccer. Once practices would begin, however, she often found them challenging and would want to quit. I established the expectation that, if Kailee began something, she would see the season through. I would work with the coach to support her and make modifications if necessary, but still we stuck it out. Usually, she was successful and glad she stayed. It is understandable that we may fatigue from time to time, but staying the course will determine our children’s future.
Celebrate Your Child’s Success
When our children succeed, it is a reflection on their abilities and our determination. Therefore, it is important to celebrate small gains and bigger achievements. Recently we attended my nephew’s and his bride-to-be’s rehearsal dinner. The bridal party was delayed getting to the dinner, requiring us to wait for quite some time (note: waiting is not our strong suit). Instead of becoming frustrated, Kailee decided to “work the room”. She went from table to table greeting all of the guests and chatting with them in a friendly and appropriate manner. I sat there is awe of the confident young woman she has become, and knew I contributed to her success. Taking note of such accomplishments is what fuels us as parents.
In summary, we need to have clear expectations for our children, being careful to make sure they are grounded in reality – not overestimating or underestimating our children’s abilities. Expectations are the launching pad for our children’s success.
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.
- Do You Set High Expectations for Your Child with Special Needs?
- What to Expect When Establishing Expectations
- Expectations: How Far Have We Come and What to Expect for the New School Year
- Avoiding Unmatched Expectations
- How to Get Free From Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood
This post originally appeared on our January/February 2018 Magazine