In light of the holiday season and a new year right around the corner, I thought the best gift I could share with everyone is the gift of giving it to you straight. So without the hoopla of ribbon, tissue paper, gift wrap or tape... here it is. Just because you do not want to upset my daughter, you're afraid of her reaction, you don't think it's a big deal, you're accommodating her or you are simply just being kind- it's NOT okay to let her do whatever she wants, even if she is being "compliant" and sweet. She cannot be in her sister's team picture after a big win, she can't always be first, she can't always get a cupcake, she can't always butt in line, and so on and so on. Here's the thing, you might think I am a strict or harsh and you could never imagine saying "no" to her cute little face; but if you were in my shoes you would, and you would ask others to do the same.
Before I explain, let me be clear about what I am saying. I know she has a developmental disability. I know she doesn't always understand a situation or know how to respond or react "appropriately". She is unfiltered and will share her honest emotion or reaction and quite frankly I think that's a trait we could all learn from. That said, if I always let her do what she wants because she doesn't understand what the norm is, how will she ever know what is appropriate or how will she learn that sometimes you get what you get and you don't get upset?
They say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. Guess what? That's old news. There are now studies that say it takes approximately 66 days (2 months!!) before a behavior or habit becomes voluntary. Studies also say that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit depending on the personality, behavior and circumstances. Now, imagine teaching someone who has a cognitive delay and already takes longer to learn most everything, the WRONG habit. How long do you think THAT takes to change? I can assure you that depending on the habit and the environment, we are not talking days. It could be weeks, months or even years.
All of our children are learning how to navigate their day, their relationships, their jobs and the expectations that are associated with each situation and environment. Some situations overlap and the typical child and adult will generalize. My daughter doesn't always make the connection. So when I let her interrupt you and I when we are speaking, guess what she is going to do in class or at her job? When we let her be in every team picture of her sister's because she doesn't have her own, guess what she is going to expect when her sister's team become more competitive and it's a championship game? When her teacher always lets her butt in line because she wants to be next to a particular person and it's cute that she has a buddy, guess what happens when she gets older and it's not so cute to her teenage or adult peers? The answer is that you have unintentionally set low expectations not only FOR HER, but also for what others have OF HER.
As my daughter gets older, her typical peers need to feel empowered to have expectations for her. They need to tell her that she has to wait for her turn, that she needs to slow down because they can't understand what she said, that it's not time to make silly noises or jokes. They need to do this because SHE WILL LISTEN TO THEM! As clear as it is that she has a cognitive delay when learning things, it's just as clear that my daughter knows to watch her peers and model what they do or say.
All kids needs boundaries to feel safe and take risks. That's why we institute curfews and homework time and tv time, etc. for all of our kids My daughter, or anyone with a cognitive or developmental disability, is no different. Boundaries enable her to feel confident to engage when she already feels different. Boundaries enable her to recognize a modeled behavior or action and use it when she is not certain what to do. Boundaries enable your relationship to be mutual, and if you like her now, imagine how awesome it would be if you could really connect?
I am not saying you should never cut her some slack. She does need more help, guidance and often more supervision than her peers. Sometimes she has a bad day and it's about the war and not that particular battle. However, that doesn't mean she gets a hall pass for everything; because if I did that, she wouldn't be prepared for the real world, her peers and others wouldn't have expectations of her and I would not have done my job. So next time we are talking, and my daughter interrupts, she takes your seat or jumps in a picture, etc., please don't say "it's fine". Call her out. It doesn't have to be a reprimand or harsh and it can be with a smile or in a fun tone; but tell her that you want to hear what she has to say in a minute after we finish our sentence, or that she took your seat and she can have it this one time, or that she can be in one picture and then it's just the players for the rest. I promise she will appreciate it, and don't be surprised if she engages with you more afterwards because you will have just given her the most valuable gift you have. Your respect.
Have a safe and happy holiday season!!