|When our children arrive, we have so many dreams, so many aspirations, so many expectations for them. As our children grow develop, our expectations should change with them so that they are aligned with the personalities, abilities, and inabilities. Whether our children have special needs or not, it is essential that our expectations of them are high enough so they can become the best people they can be...productive, happy, and healthy. We must equally ensure that our expectations are not too low. It is our parental responsibility to ensure that our children succeed to the best of their abilities. This newsletter is all about "Expectations." We hope you find our articles helpful as you look within yourself to be the best parent you can be to your child.
Please be sure to read "Servicing Great Expectations" written by the Around the Panhandle Magazine and is in their November edition. We are proud of the article.
Jesse A. Kushner, M. Ed
Professional Education and Respite Service Inc.
Missed a newsletter? Look through our archives at http://thepers.com/newsletter.htm
Parental Guilt and Kids with Special Needs
by Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For the most part pregnancies are met with the anticipation of a good delivery and healthy baby. Upon delivery parents do a quick scan of the child checking for ten fingers, ten toes and if unknown, a check of the genitals to determine gender. A positive check is met with a sense of relief and gracious thanks for such beautiful a child.
However, for any number of reasons, not all children enter the world equally well equipped. They may have physical, or developmental challenges that become immediately known or known within the first year of life. Such children are identified as having special needs. These are the kids whose development will not follow the normal developmental curve and will require special services to adapt and overcome.
In such circumstances parents undergo their own psychological and emotional adjustment as they adapt to the loss of the well-child as expected and learn to provide for their child's extraordinary needs.
Some parents may feel or may actually be complicit in their child's special needs. Drug and alcohol abuse are known contributors to developmental disorders whereas other unforeseen circumstances beyond anyone's control may contribute to a child's special needs. Regardless, there are a good many parents who whether reasonably or not, feel complicit in their child's disorder and suffer tremendous guilt as a result. This in turn leads some parents to heroic attention to meeting their child's needs while others may place minimal expectations on their child, favoring instead to pamper them so as to atone for their disability or act with a sense of pity.
Those parents who undertake heroic actions are at risk of burnout themselves. Further, marriages under such strain are at risk of dissolving thus actually placing an even greater burden of care on the primary caregiver, which then intensifies their risk of burnout.
Those parents who opt to pamper their child with special needs and hold minimal expectations are at risk of their child not fully developing to potential. Further and similar to parenting well-children with minimal expectations, there is a risk of contributing to poor behavior and poor socialization. Even kids with special needs can be spoiled, become self-righteous and behaviorally unmanageable from a lack of reasonable expectations.
Sometimes within the same family, the parents are at odds with each other. One parent may feel a need to pamper, or to provide heroic actions and the other will try to balance things out by taking an opposite approach. Hence the parent that pampers is met by the other parent with overly high expectations. Clearly then, there is a setup for parental conflict leading to a shaky marriage, not to mention mixed messages for a child with special needs, who more than anything else, needs a consistent message.
Parenting children with special needs requires a presence of mind unlike that of parenting children whose development follows a normal path. As if issues of guilt, upset and loss weren't enough, there is also the fatigue that comes with the continuous supervision these children require, often in the face of limited support.
Those parents who tend to fare better in their own right share certain traits. They examine their own feelings with a view to managing them in a way to avoid interference with the care of their children and they learn to pace themselves, even if it means somewhat slower progress for their children.
While all children need their parents, kids with special needs often need their parents longer... a lot longer.
If you are struggling, meeting the needs of your child or if caring for your child is hurting your marriage, consider counseling. Look at your feelings with the view to helping you cope and respond better. In the long run, as you invest in yourself, you are better able to support your child, now and for the future.
Set Reasonable Expectations and Goals for Your Child
No matter your general mood, having positive, realistic expectations for your child's achievements and behavior is something to strive for. When parents' expectations for their kids are set at the right level-not too high and not too low-kids do very well in life indeed. Here then, are some specific tools for setting reasonable expectations that even the gloomiest donkey can follow.
· Assess your kid as an individual.
· Understand your child's developmental stage.
Who Is Your Child?
Be very careful about comparing your child to others. Every child develops at a different rate.
Stop trying to fit your child into a mold. Social scientists and child development specialists have been studying enough children for long enough that they've quantified their data into big charts and graphs to tell you what's "average"-physical, social, and intellectual-for a child of a particular age. In reality, there's no such thing as an exactly "average" child.
You can't set a personal expectation or goal for your child without taking that individual child into consideration. It's very attractive to try, especially if you've been reading the charts in too many child development books or have older kids. ("Eliza was washing her own hair by the time she was four, Tina should be doing it, too.") Forget all the other kids, forget the books, ask yourself some simple questions: What is reasonable to expect from this child? What are her abilities, needs, accomplishments? What's her basic temperament? What's her stage of development? In order to set appropriate expectations for your child, you have to really know her.
Adjust to Your Child's Level
When you're assessing your child for "reasonable" behavior, take temperament and development into consideration, and adjust your expectations to meet his capabilities. If your child can't tolerate an elevator ride to the top of the EmpireStateBuilding, then chances are he won't tolerate the wonderful plane ride to Disneyland, either.
Charts, Graphs, Uneven Development
Tales from the Parent Zone
Jane's son Patrick has a wide spread of abilities (he's got a firm grasp of planetary environments and has mastered the subjunctive tense, but he struggles to write his name). Patrick has what's known as a "jagged" profile. I say viva la jag! We all want our kids to achieve and excel, and it's hard to step back and let them develop at their own rates. But from toilet training to reading to swimming to dating to getting a job, every child is on a different, individual timeline, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your child will test older than average in some areas of the development charts, and will be younger than average in others. Try to accept her for who she is.
It's also helpful to know what to expect in general from children at certain ages. A friend of mine who has a daughter with a nonverbal learning disability was delighted when I overheard little Posie swearing a blue streak at her sister and taunting, "You're just a ba-by!" "That's so typical," I said. "Doesn't the constant taunting of five-year-olds drive you nuts?" "You mean your daughter taunts?" "Her eyes filled with tears. "Of course," I said, "it's developmental." My friend, who had been spending nights stressing out about her daughter's rudeness and lack of social skills suddenly relaxed, as she realized that her child's mocking-while not very nice-was completely and utterly developmentally appropriate for her age group.
Charts, graphs, and development books are not fail safe, always true, or always helpful to a parent trying to set reasonable expectations for his child. Charts, graphs, and the like deal with averages, means, and norms. They don't track individuals. If you don't believe me, visit any sixth-grade classroom for 10 minutes. Check out the desks-some are filled with children so filled out you'd think twice about carding them if you were a bartender. Other desks hold scrawny kids who look as though they sleep each night with teddies clutched in their arms. Development and maturity in children is often uneven, too. Your son might be excelling in math, great in swimming, and still sucking his thumb at night. Your daughter might be terrific at art, brilliant at computer programming, but so absent-minded that when people ask her what her name is, she often replies, "Ummmmm?" You get the picture.
Parent Connection: Don't water down expectations for children
October 12, 2010 2:50 PM
Expectations. If you are a parent, you've got them for your children. You may not ponder on such intentions every night when you go to bed or each morning the alarm announces that the new day has arrived. Perhaps you don't discuss your expectations with your kids (or anyone else for that matter). But in one way or another, you've got them for little Bradley or Susie.
I write frequently on setting reasonably high standards and specifically what parents should expect from their children. Good behavior, being a good friend toward others, doing well in school, nice manners, respecting adults, helping out around the house, etc. If you've read Parent Connection for any length of time, you know this is one area I just don't water down in order for parents to never ruffle their kids' feathers.
Yes, our nest is all but empty and lately I find myself dealing with several mid-life issues (as well as the aches and pains that come with being middle-aged). It's not just the physical aches, but the emotional ones as well. I'm good with the fact that my hair is turning gray but I'm tired of it turning loose. Then there is sitting still in my seat at a day long conference. You might as well put a Jack Russell puppy in that seat if you want to observe sitting still without fidgeting. Losing focus, having a sense of being overwhelmed and waking up at 4:00 a.m. with the most insignificant thoughts racing through my mind have become the norm.
My point in this, a parenting column? Though I advocate for parents to have and enforce high but reasonable expectations for their children and teens, let me never be amiss in reminding us all that kids will be kids. My midlife reflections prompt me to remember that our children, 'tweens and teens go through some pretty significant life changes, and they do so without warning. Then there's the fact that Bradley and Susie haven't had the life experiences that us older folks have to help them deal with it all. That's where loving and responsible parents come in.
I mentioned the emotional aches and pains of midlife. Today I want to send out a reminder that our children suffer through such emotional distress as well. You as parent need to be aware, be supportive and be ready to assist. Do you try to solve it all for them? No. But helping Bradley or Susie know that you understand can go a long way.
Let me conclude today with a necessary caveat for you to hear. Moms and dads should never simply water down the expectations for their children in attempts to help the child, or the parent, avoid emotional pains or stress that life brings. It won't work for one, and two, our children of today will not learn essential coping skills to help them deal with life as adults tomorrow. Make a mental review of the expectations you have for your children and how you help them cope with life's ups and downs.
Bryan Greeson, a nationally certified School Psychologist, serves as the Director of Special Services in York School District One
Servicing Great Expectations
- Claire Gibson Webb
Around the Panhandle Magazine Nov. 2010
In the scenic and tranquil beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, visitors from near and far can find respite and relaxation. From an organization tucked away in White Post, Virginia, local families are finding respite of an altogether different nature. Professional Education & Respite Service Inc. (PERS) is a group dedicated to assisting the families of special needs children. With services ranging from parental workshop offerings to in-home trainings and respite services, PERS can accommodate the needs of most any family or child. No matter the environment, this is an organization devoted to helping children and families gain independence from often debilitating challenges.
PERS has been in existence since 2005, when President Jesse Kushner put action behind his long-held idea of bridging the gap between school and home for children with extra needs. With a career spanning 35 years in various facilities and school environments, as both an educator and administrator, Kushner has chosen this field because of his love for people. "I grew up wanting to help others," he shares, "and since high school, I can remember wanting to help the kids that were sent to institutions." Society has evolved since the days of institutions, but Kushner's passion has remained constant.
The majority of PERS clients are families of children with Autism. As behavior issues are frequently predominant in these cases, PERS staff will usually work with a family to develop and teach positive behaviors and strategies. Kushner maintains that expectations should not only be high for a special needs child, but that in fact, they should be the same as for any other child (while also considering any needs associated with a disability). "Without high expectations, they are being further handicapped," he believes.
The core belief of PERS lies in the implementation of these types of expectations, which will eventually lead a family towards functional independence. Kushner understands that families may often consider themselves captive to the disability, finding that even the simplest of tasks becomes impossible when the behavior being manifested is so challenging.
With a staff of 20, PERS is well-equipped to meet a family where and when they need it most. They will go into homes, accompany a parent and child to a grocery store or restaurant, or anywhere they are able to observe in a natural environment. Kushner believes this component of the program is vital to its success; not only are they are able to teach the parents to teach and more effectively manage their children, but the one-on-one environment for the child, often within their comfort zone, is most effective. "You can see the behavior as it is happening and address it right then and there," Kushner maintains.
A PERS staff member can make instant recommendations to better equip a parent to be effective, particularly with making positive interventions. For example, instead of a parent admonishing their child what not to do, they should instead teach, reinforce, and praise their child for things they want them to do. According to Kushner, this removes the emphasis from the negative behavior and models the appropriate actions-allowing new behaviors and social skills to replace the old.
Some of the strategies Kushner discusses are not just for children with Autism or other special needs. PERS offers free Effective Parent Workshops-open to all parents and families and will work with any family of typical or atypical developing children on parenting issues in their home. "We are just like a supernanny!" he quips. "We help the family when and where the action is occurring."
Kushner takes pride in the unique components of the program. "We are not social workers and we are not psychologists; we are educators and have spent six hours a day with children. We do and show. We model and role-play and we are not in an office for a short period of time-we are right there with them for as long as necessary." All recommendations and evaluations are made based on ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), and while most services are provided in-home, parents can also visit the office in White Post, Virginia.
PERS makes home visits all throughout the Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia, and the Eastern Panhandle. "I would travel the country, though, if our service was the right answer for a family," says Kushner.
To any parents of a special needs child, who may be feeling alone or captive, or as if they have exhausted all resources, he offers this advice: If it hasn't worked, change your message. Focus on the positive; teach them what you want them to do.
If extra help is needed or wanted, find PERS at www.thepers.com or call 888-664 9886. Jesse Kushner can be reached directly via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.