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Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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Teaching Skills For Life, Blessings Of Our Children 

By Sherry Bushnell


    “Jordan, (our 16-year-old son with Down syndrome) can you sweep the front porches this morning?” I turn, speaking from the kitchen sink, hands stuck in dish suds. Making eye contact with him is very important.

  “Yup,”  he nods. 

   He trots over to the pantry to get the broom. Outside the front door, he proceeds to sweep with vengeance, door open, dust flying.  The newly vacuumed inside entry is now covered with a settling layer of grit.

  With careful concentration, he picks up the welcome mat, shaking, shaking until all manner of sticks, little rocks and more grit fly out (on top of the newly swept porch).

  Bless his heart.  He is trying so hard.  We are so proud of him.  He loves to work and it is awfully hard to explain procedure.  We will start again.

First we close the door. Then we move the welcome mat. We shake it out away from the house. We sweep. We replace the mat.

 The more our children with challenges learn to do on their own, the more self-reliant they will be.

  Do I want to do the dishes all by myself for the rest of my life?  Nope.

  Want to know the secret to having happy golden years living with our special needs children? Wisdom from the older folks tell us, it is all in how we approach the younger years. 

  The skills we teach today will stick with our disabled children for life, as long as they are physically able.  Even then, we can help them adapt as they may grow more disabled.

    Our attitudes about food, hospitality, and yes, even work are mirrored daily for us to ponder in our children.

  Having an eagerness for learning new skills and the ability to stay level headed when training (not getting angry at failure or under stressful situations) makes the future look brighter.  What does your child with special needs or disability have to look forward to in life?

  However the Lord in His wisdom created us, abilities or lack thereof, by God’s grace we should all be willing to “bloom where we are planted.”  If we are in His will for a lifetime of service, then He will provide the means to train our children as He sees fit.  We don’t need to look longingly at the  “other side of the fence” before we start teaching our children (a house in the country, a huge shop or garage, bigger rooms, more ideas…).

   Let’s teach our children coping skills that will enable them to deal with new situations and new people in their lives.  They are more likely to “catch” our way of dealing with life than learn through verbal instruction.

  In our family, things get very sad,  dull and monotonous in a hurry if we don’t maintain a good sense of humor.  Things will most often not be done “right” to someone’s specifications.  The trick is allowing someone to succeed, correcting the job so it is done right, and at the same time, teaching the right procedure.  Yikes! 

  If we are punishing our children for not doing a job “right” then we are not teaching, we are reacting.  Finding the best way to teach, with a smile on our faces, is easier to write about than to do.

  How many of you have instructed children to put a load of wash in, only to find 10 minutes later, as the machine is making a peculiar groaning sound as if it wants to die right now, that 3 loads have been stuffed into the barrel to make 1?   In addition, your Sunday best dress has been added to the lot,  by someone “helpful” to “surprise” you. 

  Have you ever been treated to stew “chop suey”?  Evenly cut vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, celery, onions, and perhaps winter squash, simmered  in a pot of venison broth is a common meal at our house in the winter.  When I am busy in the office and some of the girls are helping with dinner, I am sure to start them chopping 4 hours in advance.  Peering into the pot one day, I was surprised to find whole potatoes, half cut carrots, minced unidentified pieces and a few hairs floating.  I sighed.  They are trying so hard to help.  Fishing out the whole items, and straining out the minced pieces and hair, I boiled the stew hard and tried to even out the sizing of the vegetables.

  With a smile, I waited until after the meal to tell Tom how hard the girls worked.

  Another struggle we have is how to teach our children to ask for help.  If the task is truly too hard for our children, or they do not understand, it is much easier to patiently explain again than to pick up the pieces of broken feelings after failure.  Walking off the job is totally unacceptable in our house.  Sometimes we have to actually do the job several times with them, undoing it each time, before we have the confidence that they can succeed by themselves.

  Job coaches (alias brothers and sisters) are also a really big part of teaching our children with challenges to work. 

  Sheela, our 15 year old daughter who is blind, does a great job with the dishes. I will put Liza with her. Liza is 19 and mildly mentally impaired.  She is learning, but doesn’t have a lot of work skills or perseverance yet.

  Sheela will sometimes end up doing more than her share.  Staying on task may not be Liza’s strong suit, but she can really be helpful by seeing those things Sheela can’t! 

  Most mornings, it takes the girls 2 hours to do the dishes, clean the sink, counters and stove. This is with my help early on putting the food away.  Yes, I could probably get the dishes done in about 15 minutes, but they would not be learning valuable skills that benefit all of us for years to come.

  People skills are a valuable asset, especially for those who have disabilities.  Let’s take two young men that have the same physical abilities.  A young man that can make friends, give a good first impression, and stay calm while emotions get thick around him, will be able to keep a job and be pleasant to be around, even if his output is not ideal.

  Another young man that has a sour attitude, that is belligerent when failing, will not be welcome for long, even if his output is greater than the positive young man’s.

  Wise food choices are imperative in the health of our families, especially those of our children who may have less resistance to germs and infections.

  This whole family effort needs to be a lifestyle commitment.  This means different ideals to different people.  Basically, we need to find the right balance of exercise, fatty or sugary treats, and meal plans that suit everyone. 

  In our home, not everyone uses butter on their bread.  Does this sound cruel and hard-hearted?  Our kids don’t seem to mind.  Lynny, who is 11-years-old and has cerebral palsy, struggles to keep weight on.  She needs the extra calories.  Some of us who struggle to keep weight off the hips and tummy don’t.

  How do we help our children decide how much mayonnaise to put on their sandwich, how much jelly to apply to toast, how big of serving of chips, pumpkin pie, meat, pasta salad, etc…?

  Our reminder at meal time is MODERATION.  Will our mentally challenged children ever get it?  Perhaps.  More important, however, is the idea of a “healthy diet”. 

  If I was to give my children a daily buffet of things to eat, ranging from very healthy to very sweet and fatty, and if they knew I wasn’t looking and wouldn’t chide them, I know that the first few meals would make me shudder.

  In my heart I like to think that their stomachs would eventually choose the healthy foods.  Truth is, my children with challenges will always need oversight.  Their self-control and urge to indulge often wins out.  Why do we oversee their plates at church dinners, and when dining in  guests’ homes?  So Mama doesn’t get embarrassed! 

  Weight gain in children with special needs can really be a problem as they enter the teens and then later on when adult hormones are present.  We are doing our children a real favor in teaching them early to love exercise and work.  How much more pleasant life is for adult children with challenges, who are looking and feeling healthy.  Those eating and working habits begin now.

  Table manners that include using a napkin or wash cloth for fingers and face, keeping feet off the table, not yelling or dominating conversation, thanking the cook, eating with fork or spoon, waiting to be served (not pouting because they are not first), not tipping in their chair, keeping food on the plate,  not taking too much, these are all skills that we are learning.  Mealtime can be a zoo if we are not thinking of others.

  Finding a craft or hobby that our children can do to bless others is a real step in teaching our children stick-to-it-ness.  Jordan, our teenage son with Down syndrome, loves to sand with his mouse sander.  He has brought me many pieces of carefully sanded wood.  He has labored for days to make a smooth surface on his stick just to please mommy.  This makes my heart ache with sweetness.

  The craft of choice does not need to be good enough to sell, but if eventually the skill level does reach that, it can be a real incentive to work hard, (that is if the concept of money means anything to them). Your huge happy smile might just be enough, though! 

 Start out with really simple crafts that don’t take too long, like sewing colorful cards with yarn, painting by color (not number), paper chains for holidays.  If you are out of ideas, getting a preschool craft book can refresh our memories. I need to get fresh ideas, too.  One item we made was a huge success.  We took a canning jar, glued a small figurine to the inside of the lid, filled the jar with water and a drop of glycerin and 1 teaspoon of glitter.  We sealed the jar and had a pretty toy that the girls were even able to sell at a craft sale.

  So, this learning-to-be-a-blessing business (and my attitude) really gets tested daily.  For instance,  we have given one of the girls the responsibility of cleaning the outside of the cupboards. In the process they proceed to spray 409 cleaner on the freshly baked bread, miss 3 of the cupboards, and then get side tracked when a guest comes to the door… how will I react?

  Ideally we make some more bread, squeegee off the excess 409 from the counter, and drag our wandering cleaner back in to finish the job.  Smile.