The Fourth of July is about independence. Our families love to gather and celebrate our nation. But for some families who live with disability, it’s another day to remind them of their loved one’s lack of independence.
This July 4th, we can help our young children and teenagers grow in independence .It’s important to help our children gain independence with self-determination and self-advocacy. The degree of independence will vary, but it’s vital to have high expectations. We should aim toward more and more independence and help our children learn to speak up for themselves. For our children who need assistance sharing their voice, there are helpful options, whether it is with multiple choice, a communication device, or some other means.
Self-advocacy means speaking for yourself and exercising control over your own life. We can help child with the words to say and the opportunity to practice simple skills.
Every person, with and without disability, has wants and needs. ‘What do I want to eat?’ ‘What do I want to wear?’ ‘What do I want to watch on TV?’ ‘Where do I want to live?’ ‘Where do I want to work?’ ‘Where do I want to sit?’ ‘Who do I want to take care of me?’ These questions are a good place to start to exercise control and take steps toward independence. We can talk with our child about these topics and then choose a way for them to express their opinion. See the Transition to Adulthood section of this site for more information.
It is important for a person to know which things they are good at doing. But it’s also important to be able to talk about disability and challenges. A family can talk openly about abilities and disabilities. Talking about their disability improves self-awareness. Open conversation gives the family member the words to describe their disability. It helps highlight the areas where they need support. Role playing and practicing at home help prepare them to talk with others.
It is important that people with disabilities know how to say, “No.” They need the words to say how they feel or if they don’t want to do something and we must teach them how and when to use them. Other people need to respect their “No.” It can be a simple “No!” or “Stop!” It can be a longer phrase like “I don’t like that.” The statistics are chilling about the number of cases of abuse and neglect of persons with disabilities. Saying “No” (and saying it as loudly as possible) is a must. Role playing and practicing this skill will help the person say, “No” later when needed.
This July 4th, families can take small steps toward speaking up. It can set the stage for a lifetime of being heard.