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Simply Self-Controlled Special Needs Children

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell - NATHHAN NEWS  Fall 1996

    Self control is an important part of every child's character training. Even our special needs children.

As parents, it is our responsibility to each our children to be able to control themselves. What a gift of love a parent gives their children: training them to be self-controlled. Is it something that comes naturally for our children or us? No.

This article has no qualifiers. All children can be taught to be more self controlled. Even a child that has little or no control of their body movements can lovingly be taught to have a good attitude or be grateful when their basic needs are met.

After parents receive an initial diagnosis about what their child will be able to do or achieve, it is true that some of the dreams that they had hoped for their child must die. This is so wonderful new dreams can come to life. Unfortunately the long-range goal of good behavior may get lost in the process. We are doing our children a great disfavor by throwing the "baby-out-with-the -bath-water" by not requiring good behavior and self-control from our special needs children.

Galatians 5:22 -23: states: But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such thing there is no law.

2 Peter 1:5-7: for this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self-control, perseverance Godliness; and to Godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

2 Timothy 3 1-3: But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money. Boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good...

When we take a look at what scripture says about self-control, we can see that it is a very important quality for any child of God.

Make no mistake. Our children may be different in the world's eyes, but there is no difference in the Lord's view. Disability is a nuisance, but with God's grace He provides what we need to do what pleases Him. Disability is not an excuse for a lack of self-control or disobedience. We are all made in the image of God, our Father. As parents let's work hard to teach our children to conform to the likeness of Christ.

Many parents are content to wait until their children are older to talk about self-control. Unfortunately "older" may be too late, for that is when children need to be reaping the fruit of their lessons. The world's attitude may be "if it feels good, do it,". But the Christ centered home will make every effort to temper each thought and deed with the idea of putting others before themselves. Let's deliberately put aside our comfort, our ease in life, our needs, and put others before ourselves. This takes self-control.

Ephesians 4: 29: Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but such a word as is good for edification according to the need to the moment that it may give grace to those who hear.

This biblical mandate takes a lot of self-control for all of us. Do you feel this applies to your special needs child as well? Our children need God's grace to learn this very important concept. Some of our children may be able to comprehend why we are helping them learn to control themselves, but others will only understand that we want them to obey. Simple obedience is the beginning of many wonderful years together as parent and child.

Thought Life - A child that has irrational fears of real or imagined thinks, may need to be taught to trust. It takes self-control on the part of the child to purposefully place their trust in the Lord, Dad and Mom. Can a child be taught this? Yes. Not overnight, but with much prayer and working together on a peaceful home and environment, many fears can be avoided. Suggestions to help in this area are:

1. Avoid exaggerated cartoon characters that are portrayed as menacing or evil. Many children's toys are actually grotesque if you take a minute to look at them. If these toys are a big part of our children's lives, they will emulate behavior as they think of relating to the toys. Some of our children cannot separate play from reality.

2. Be careful with teasing using objects (Editor's note: It could be as simple as not waving a large fish that was bought whole from the fisherman. Jordan just about ran our of the house in terror as the fish was picked up and held under the fishes chin and tail waved like it was swimming.)

3. Find out what sets your child off and get them used to it. This may mean a couple days of screaming. (Editor's note: One of our daughters had an irrational fear whenever Dad left the table, especially if he went toward the bathroom or kitchen. To overcome this, we spent several meals with Dad walking around with his plate in hand toward those areas. Up from the table, down from the table, towards the kitchen, sit back down, up towards the kitchen, sit back down. She was so upset she wouldn't eat any during those times. She just sat and screamed, or pouted, or hid. We ignored her antics and tried to talk light -heartedly with each other and created a warm spite of her "problems".) Parents need to be tuned in to what is causing fears. Use creativity. Don't be afraid to get to the bottom of the fear, comfort as you go, but plainly making it known you do not feel there is anything to be afraid of. It is not a good idea to "go along with the fear" and swat at pretend bees or play along, hopefully creating a happy ending to what is going on. This only perpetuates the fear and cements into our children's brain that the fear WAS WARRANTED.

If the fears happen at a certain time of the day like bedtime, is it being used as a ruse? Have they become a master at avoiding the inevitable? It is actually a very early developmental ability for children to distract parents from discipline or unpleasant duties. A toddler will point at the sky or another object when confronted. An older child may only laugh and giggle when asked to do something.

Philippians 4:6 and 7: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hears and our minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving plays the most important role during those times we are working with emotional disturbances. As parents we are beseeching God for an answer on how to help our children. We are teaching our children to pray for protection and to be ever thankful.

An important file cabinet should be imprinted in our children's head. We teach ours to categorize each thought that lingers. These help them reason away an un-Godly thought or fear by simply not finding the right spot to put it. Here are our files of acceptable thought life.

Philippians 4:8: finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is excellence and if anything worthy of raise, let your mind dwell on these things.

Emotions - As our children learn what gets reactions from others, or us they need to learn another step in self-control. Over-emotionalism is a form of amusement or manipulation for many special needs children. (as it is for normal children). Using tears, hysteria, pouting, down-in-the-dumps and inappropriate giggling can be used to direct attention towards or away from themselves.

The key to managing this type of behavior is parental observation. To giggle is O.K. Being down-in-the-dumps is part of life, but when it is used deliberately, it becomes a nasty habit. We can help our special needs children be more pleasant to be around later in life if we carefully and diligently shape our children's emotional responses to life. Suggestions:

1. Consistency is very important. After starting to correct a problem, don't stop for a few days. Be diligent.

2. Be quick on the draw when working with a child changing undesirable emotional reactions. Children that are developmentally delayed may not remember what they were doing by the time you drag them to the other room. (Editor's note: There have been times when hysteria had set in that we had to discipline. This sounds harsh, but to tell you the truth, the imagined disaster was set aside and reality did come home, after the chastisement. Over-emotionalism is not using self-control and can be used as an attention-getter.)

3. Keep a mirror handy. In an effort to help one of our children identify what we were talking about, pouting, we held a mirror under her nose. She saw an ugly pout face and seen learned what were talking about. This was the first step in her comprehension that her reaction was not acceptable. Her habit of pouting when things did not go her way was learned. It was pitiful looking. She got the desired reaction at the orphanage.

4. What do you what to live with 5 years from now? Include emotional self-control into the I.E.P. It certainly is important enough. To avoid confusion, work on one emotional problem at a time. We use this saying when deciding what we like: What is appropriate...not cute. What is edifying, not gratifying.

Actions - In the world today, our children need to learn to control their thoughts, emotions and actions, rather than helplessly acting on every whim. Self-control is handy when we are faced with the hard times in life. Admittedly it comes easier for some of us than other. This rings true for children too. Wherever we are at in this virtue, we can all use more. As our children get older, it becomes more and more obvious if they have not been taught to have self-control. The time to start preparing for adolescence in our developmentally delayed children is now. Learning not to whine or scream, but using acceptable communication takes self-control when our children are frustrated. Little girls need to learn not to manipulate and little boys need to be taught not to play with their private parts. These are some examples.

This may sound rather hard, but many Christian parents do struggle with these problems with their older, teenage, mentally disabled children. A word of warning right now can save years of frustration later. As hormones rise and fall in our older developmentally delayed and mentally disabled children so can their moods. Previously learned self-control is such a blessing during puberty. Hearts and minds are little, yet their body is fast becoming a man or woman's. We cannot emphasize it more: Do not wait until the pre-teens to start working on self-control. It starts with simple obedience when our children are young. Suggestions:

1. Start with simple commands. Come. Sit. No. Down.

2. Next work on helping children take control of their attitudes and actions.

3. Are you unsure whether your child can hear or comprehend what you are asking? An easy test is the "ice-cream" test. In a normal voice ask a child next to you if they would like an item you know it much favored by the child in question. Does the child perk up? Does he or she come over and investigate?

4. Using observation, notice whether or not requests or directions of similar difficulty are carried out. A child with severe language or communication problems may need to be trained to understand exactly what you are asking. If we are sure our child does understand, then we need to hold them to it. It takes self-control on their part and ours to follow through. One of the harder areas in teaching disabled children is knowing whether a child actually understands or physically can do what is requested. In our home, many times what was thought to be a lack of ability was really a matter of the heart. Stubbornness is a common way of controlling a situation and for some disabled children is what they can do to "rule the roost." Allowing our children to dominate the home cripples their abilities and future. They refuse to be pushed and they will not proceed past their comfort zone. The Lord gives each and every one of us what we need for life in Godliness. He has given all we need to please Him. That should be our goal in life and our children do also.

Motivation - Therapy is useless without some trying on the part the person receiving physical therapy. How to motivate the younger child is a great study for therapists. Older disabled children can reach their greatest potential if they were taught to be motivated or self-controlled and give herd things a try early in life. While striving to praise of God is most desirable, learning to please Dad and Mom is important, too. When new skills are formed, there should be a genuine celebration!

Self-Stimulation - Mothers of special needs children who have early in years not allowed their children to engage in self-stimulation such as twirling, hand flapping, screaming or other annoying behaviors have had more success later in their child's life in helping them be more socially acceptable. Let's face it, a child who has an eye-catching habit will be less pleasant to be around. People in church or other places generally do not like to have attention drawn to themselves, and shy away from walking up to a young adult who is practicing behavior that is unusual. We can teach our special needs children socially appropriate behavior by not allowing self-stimulation in the home. Suggestion: Be firm and consistent. It is in our child's best interest. They can help it, with YOUR help. Remember self-stimulation is just a habit. (Editor's note: NATHHAN mothers have had great success in curbing their child's self-stimulation by simply not allowing the behavior. This took consistently not allowing the behavior to happen and expecting more than they thought their child was capable of. It was a step of bravery for them, as the medical professional and teachers had encouraged them to allow their child to "express themselves". I wonder how much of the "knowledge" we have been fed by professionals is wrong? Can we get back to basics in child training and start with simple obedience? Why have things gotten so complicated? Now they make behavior modification manuals!

My Child Is Hyperactive - (Editor's note: This next section is taken from Child Training and The Home School by Jeff and Marge Barth, pages 125 and 126. Parable Publishing: RD 2 box 2002, Middlebury,VT 05753. This section is for parents who what something different for their hyperactive child. Medications for hyperactivity are short term answers that solve the problems of the moment and do little to provide a child with the tools he or she needs to learn to cope with the abundance of energy given to him by the Lord.) Varying levels of hyperactivity in just one child in a family can make life stressful and disheartening for all. The hyperactive child tends to have a lot of energy, emotions, and independence and is usually very inquisitive and curious by nature. However, as we just said, these are not necessarily negative qualities. They simply are going to require more diligence and intense child training with a greater degree of restraint, guidance and channeling.

Try to begin early in helping your child learn to subject his will to yours. Hyperactivity is very much a situation caused by the child's lack of self-control, and the hyperactive child will need assistance from their parents in gaining this self-control. Have them learn to sit quietly for a period of time and learn to be quieter and not ask too many questions. Remember that the tongue has a lot to do with controlling our whole bodies. See James chapter 3.

Don't allow this child to be manipulative, assertive or demanding. These are actually signs of willfulness. In many cases of hyperactive children, the parents are unaware that the child has control over the parents, rather than he parents having control over their children. Often parents try to place the blame on hyperactivity to such things as genetic inheritance, hormone imbalances and the individual child's unique personality, etc. These may be contributing factors but they may be only part of the problem.

Another important factor, which can bring about or intensify the condition of hyperactivity, is the environment and excessive social contacts. Carefully regulate and be mindful of environment situations, which might tip these tendencies observed in your child into the hyper range. Here again, go through the list of possible sources: excited and overly emotional friends, relatives and acquaintances who are not good behavioral examples for your child, excited or dynamic speakers or teachers, literature, videos, TV., hyped-up music and other mediums that may encourage this condition. Also, carefully evaluate the atmosphere at home: disorderliness and confusion tend to add to the problem.

Conclusion - Stubbornness can be a greater cripple than a physical or mentally disability itself, if left to grow and prosper in a child's heart. How many times have you seen a child with a minor disability 100 times more unpleasant to be around than a severe cerebral palsied child with a happy heart? Training is everything!

This article is not an easy one to swallow. All of us need work in gaining more self-control. When we struggle in an area, we know our children will probably be struggling too...for they are just like us. We are their prime examples. Teaching self-control takes years. It needs to start in infancy. The younger a child learns to place their will aside and please others (i.e.. obeying) the easier it will be later. The first of self-control is self-denial. What a joy to be around anyone who is full of God's grace and is humble. Our homes can be places of peace and rest. Simple obedience. Simple trust. Simply self-controlled.