Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How to give your kid with special needs superhero confidence

Being a superhero tops the list of children's career aspirations, per a new survey of 3910 parents of kids under 10. Thirty seven percent of kids would like to be a superhero when they grow up. Second on kids' wish list: They'd like to be a celebrity. Third: They'd like to be doctors. Fourth: President of the United States. Fifth: A teacher. Dead last: Santa, who only 10 percent of children aspire to be, according to the Coupon Codes Pro poll.

I already think Max is a superhero in so many ways. Throughout his life he has regularly wowed me with his ability to leap over obstacles in a single mental bound, his determination to power through challenges and his way of staying colossally cheerful throughout it all. Still, I am all for taking his confidence level to new heights.

"GREAT job!" I'll say whenever he writes out a word. "You wrote the 'F' and 'm' so clearly."

"Wow, you did a great job walking down the stairs slowly and staying balanced," I'll gush.

"Max, you said that word so well!" I'll tell him.

"NICE TRY!" I'll squeal whenever he's figuring out a new math equation. "You are such a smart guy. You'll get it."

I also dole out plenty of props to Sabrina, too; I want her to grow up thinking she's a superhero, too. I try not to get overly enthusiastic about Max when she's around. But Max is a kid who needs extra confidence to carry him through life; he will face obstacles Sabrina and his typically-developing peers will not.

I want him to feel confident about doing the best he can.

Sometimes, Max gets frustrated when he's not able to articulate words. Yes, he loves the speech app, but on occasion he is determined to articulate stuff and he refuses to type it out. He's at the stage where he thinks it's our problem if we don't understand what he's saying; he's been known to lean in closely to my ear and say whatever word or phrase it is more loudly because he's thinking I can't hear him. Even when Max grows out of this, I don't ever want him getting frustrated with himself for his speech or any other challenges, or see them as failings. It's why I praise his efforts as much as I praise his wins. It's why he gets props for coloring outside the lines.

I want him to feel confident about moving at his own pace.

On occasion, during my work commute, I will end up behind an elderly person who is taking their sweet time getting up or down stairs. I will catch myself internally rolling my eyes, in my rush to get to work or get home to the kids. And I will suddenly feel awful for my lack of patience—and acutely aware that this could very well be Max someday, meandering along amidst people in a rush to get wherever they are going. And I want to make sure he is perfectly OK with moving at his own pace as others move at theirs. It's why we leave extra time for activities or to get places, so we never have to rush him (although lately, it's Sabrina who's holding us up because she's in the bathroom gazing at her hair).

I want him to feel confident enough to ignore the stares.

Right now, I'm the one who notices if other people stare at Max when we walk down the street (and who at times gets worked up about it). When Max someday becomes aware of the looks, I want him to have the self confidence to believe that something is wrong with the people who blatantly stare, not with him. Bolstering his sense of competence will help him deflect the stare-glarers. And if he grows up to think that people are looking at him because he's so handsome, well, that would be rather awesome.

I want him to feel confident about his strengths and talents.

Max is a charmer, that's for sure. He has a high Emotional IQ—he's very perceptive about people's moods. When he can tell that something is weighing on my mind, he does this little wave at me that always makes me smile, and I thank him for cheering me up. He also has a great visual memory, and is the person in our family most likely to remember how to get somewhere. I call it GPM (Global Positioning Max). When he recently informed me I was going in the wrong direction on a highway and I quickly realized he was right, I laid it on thick: "Max, you have the best sense of direction! You are better than me and Daddy and Sabrina!" And he beamed and said, "That'll be twenty bucks." OK, he didn't actually say that but one of these days, he just might.

I want him to have the confidence to stand up for himself.

I've been the mama warrior since the minute we found out Max was having seizures in the NICU. He's not yet at the point where he can speak up for himself if, say, a program is excluding him. But there are baby steps I'm taking to helping become his own champion, including getting him to understand what his disability is and having him sit in on his IEP.

I want him to feel confident in a world that isn't always comfortable with differences. 

I have my own way of dancing, which basically involves moving my hands and shoulders a lot. Dave does a shuffle. Sabrina jumps around a lot. Max likes to do this surfing move. Chances are if someone were to watch all us on a dance floor, Max's moves might seem the most "different" because of his spasticity (I'm not calling him names, I'm referring to the way the cerebral palsy stiffens his muscles) even though each of us has our own unique style. Max is more likely to be attract attention throughout his life because of his physical and cognitive differences. And I want him to feel good about his dancing, his way of walking up and down stairs, his way of holding things and of speaking—his way of doing everything. If you're comfortable in your skin, you can handle the confidence busters that may come your way. If you feel like a superhero, then nobody can bring you down.


  1. I used to think this way and praised my daughter at every opportunity
    If I could have a do over today, I would do it differently and here is why
    My daughter is 25 and has had 3 good job opportunities since she graduated from a very good college 3 years ago. She was unable to last longer than 6 months at any of the jobs. She could not tolerate any type of correction or direction from her boss/supervisors because she interpreted it as criticism and a personal attack. She had no trouble getting hired for these jobs as she interviews very well and is capable of over-selling herself, due in part, to always being told she was the best, a winner etc
    When I look back, it was wrong for each child to get a soccer trophy when there were only a few really good players. My daughter and other children too should have been given realistic truths about their abilities and capabilities. It would have been alright for them to know they were not the best
    I know personally that my daughter has paid the price for our not doing that. She is in graduate school now and my husband and I are hoping it works out and she finds her niche

    1. Emily, your point is well taken. I do correct Max as warranted. And although I do give praise a lot, it is sincere and I try to avoid vague praise like "You're the best!" Years ago, I read that when you give kids compliments it's best to be specific and so I aim for that ("I love the combination of colors you chose for that drawing!"). I hope your daughter does well in grad school! What is she studying?

    2. I do agree with you Emily, that the over-praising of every kid has gotten a little ridiculous and made it impossible for a lot of these children to tolerate rejection or hardships of any kind as they get older. We cannot all be the best at everything and kids need to learn that lesson.

      Ellen, I think what you're doing for Max is terrific because the compliments are meant to encourage him, especially when he gets frustrated. That is something that goes for every child. If we focus less on over-praising our kids for every. single. thing. and more on encouraging them when they face challenges, they will be much better off in the long run.

  2. While I completely agree with Emily about the dangers of overconfidence (an inflated sense of self is never a good thing), I love that you understand the importance of instilling a healthy dose of confidence in Max. As people with disabilities, we are constantly subject to "confidence busters" as you call them, and it's important to maintain healthy self-esteem in spite of our differences.

    Your post stuck with me all day (particularly your second point!) and inspired me to write my latest post on my blog...I hope you don't mind that I've linked to your post on my blog!

    1. Thank you for getting where I'm coming from, and for elaborating on the topic in your powerful post.

  3. Its a tough call, how much to praise and when to hold back. My take is that praise is never amiss when it is honest. The trouble comes when we are lavished with hyperbolic praise that's obviously meant to compensate for some supposed deficit. Your praise sounds grounded and honest to me.

    1. I agree with you, Andrew. I wrote on my blog about my current work in progress of hand writing 20 short letters. To some people, praising this would be ridiculous but for me it is giving me a wonderful sense of achievement.
      On the same hand, to praise me for typing out this comment would be ludicrous because I've never or rarely struggled with typing.

    2. Well said (as usual) Andrew. I definitely keep it real! She Types (I am sorry, I do not know your name!): Whenever Max writes, I pile it on because he is trying SO hard to define letters. Congrats on your progress! I will do a happy dance for you too.

  4. Your mention of Max's "surfing move" totally put a huge smile on my face! My little boy has his signature "surfing move" too and I think it's the cutest thing!!!

    1. He looks like he should be in one of those surfer movies when he does it! I know, too cute.

  5. I have been a long time reader of your blog, and I thank you for writing the things that you do. Your posts are always so relatable and applicable to my life and experience. My oldest daughter had a stroke shortly after birth like your Max. She was a twin, and we suspect that her brain hemorrhage was the result of a traumatic (breach) delivery. She is now 7 and has mod spastic quad CP mild-moderate cognitive impairment, seizure disorder, apraxia, and uses a wheelchair. My second daughter was born without a left hand and truly does not have a handicap in our opinion, but still needs the superhero confidence that this post aims to deliver. Thanks for posting this. Stop by my blog www.jaketaylorfam.blogspot.com if you want and let me know you were there :).

    1. Hi, Elisa. You have a beautiful family, and you are a stellar photographer! (I checked out both your blogs—and let you know.) It's truly heartening how much we special moms have in common.

  6. I have the confidence to march through barriers with my flute. The notes I play are so high they change perceptions. Whoever said that autistic people cannot acquire new skills, tell that to my band directors!

  7. Hi There,

    I have just finished reading to my son a Amazon Kindle book called ‘Four Wheeled Hero’ based around a young boy named Tommy who is wheelchair bound and his best mate Smithy. Every night I would read him one chapter before he went to bed, and he could hardly wait for bedtime to come to hear the next. The book is very funny as well as having a story line that keeps you glued to the book from start to finish. The reason why I have sent this note to you is the fact that I have never seen a book published where a child in a wheelchair is the hero of the day and as such would give that feel good feeling to any child in that situation who reads it, as it did my son. As a mother it was wonderful to see his face as we worked our way through the chapters, watching the enjoyment and excitement he showed as the two boys followed their quest. I have added a couple prints from the book that can explain it better than me. An excellent book for all children young and old. There are only a few books with disabled children in them as I suppose they are not seen as interesting, but this book changes all of that.

    This is an Amazon Kindle Book and if anyone cannot afford to buy the Kindle Tablet then go onto the Amazon Kindle Book web page where you will find a free kindle app available to download onto PC’s mobile phones etc. This app gives you all of the Kindle Tablet program to allow you the get your copy of Four Wheeled Hero as well as thousands of other titles, some free of charge.

    Best Regards

    Brenda Green

    This exciting adventure story for children will have all lovers of traditional fantasy ‘boy hero’ tales on the edge of their seats until the final word.

    The story has two young teenage heroes, Tommy and Smithy. But this is a children’s fantasy adventure story with a difference because one of the heroes, Tommy, is confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident.

    The story begins when Tommy is sent a magical stone from his Uncle Bill who is on an expedition in the Brazilian Rain Forest. Bill was given the stone by a village chieftain after he saved his son’s life. He was told that the stone had magical powers so he sent it to Tommy for his stone collection.

    But it turned out to be much more ‘valuable’ than for inclusion in the stone collection for, a couple of days later, Tommy’s father, who is the manager of the local bank, is kidnapped by robbers when they realise that the alarm system has been set and they have to wait until Monday when it would allow the vault to be opened.

    When Tommy and Smithy decide to try to track the robbers down the real power of the magic stone is revealed. This power is that when Tommy thinks of something the stone makes it happen so the robbers are in for some real surprises as Tommy's wheelchair develops some very unusual and effective weapons and powers. So, with the help of Smithy’s cat, Tiger, who more than lives up to his name, the robbers are taught a lesson they certainly don’t expect.

    This is an exuberant and exciting children’s adventure that will appeal to young and old alike.


Thanks for sharing!

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