Every day we make choices in our lives. We get to choose whether or not we want to do something. We get to choose if we want to participate in an activity. We get to choose whether we want to take a risk. Unfortunately, this isn’t often true for people with disabilities.
I used to teach special education. In the beginning, I thought it was my job and duty to protect my students. To keep them safe. It was my job to tell them what they could and couldn’t do. Thankfully, it didn’t take me very long to realize that even though these children had intellectual disabilities, they could still make choices.
They deserved the right to make their own choices. Yes, there were certain rules that needed to be followed. Sometimes there were true safety risks that needed to be taken into consideration. But for the most part, helping my students make their own choices empowered them.
When my son was born, I vowed to always protect him. It’s my job as a mom to keep him safe. When we learned he had brain damage, my need to protect grew even stronger.
As the years passed, I learned I needed to give him his wings to fly. I needed to let him make choices. I needed to let him go over the curb with his wheelchair if he wanted to. I needed to let him decide if he wanted to go down the big waterslide. I needed to let him decide if he wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. I needed to let him figure out how to roll over without my help.
I needed to let him struggle. I needed to let him succeed on his own. But more importantly, I needed to let him fail. A lot of times we learn from our mistakes. He needed to learn that maybe going over the curb wasn’t such a great idea!
Giving him the right to choose helped him build self-determination. Being able to make those choices, even if you fail, is the dignity of risk. There is so much dignity in being able to take a risk and make your own choices. And everyone deserves to live life with dignity.
As parents and caregivers, it is very hard to let our loved ones do things that we think might hurt them. Sometimes, the choices they make aren’t the choices we would make. We have to learn to let them make mistakes so they can grow and learn and experience life like everyone else.
Self-determination is empowering and builds confidence. There is a fine line between letting our loved ones make their own choices and also keeping them safe. We need to find that balance. We need to encourage self-determination and dignity of risk. It’s something every human being deserves.
Learn ways to help your child build their independence.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.