Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When not to help your kid with special needs

Max is a pretty determined kid. When he's psyched about something, whether it's a Chicago fire truck video or a big bowl of chocolate ice-cream, he'll keep at it, surfing YouTube and doing his best to grasp a spoon. But physical tasks can be a real challenge—and when you are used to Mom and Dad doing stuff for you, at times it can seem easier to expend your energy on persuading them to take over so you don't have to do it.

In other words, Max is fond of playing mind games when it comes to his independence.

This is very much the case with drinking from a cup. (We're still working on straw sipping although there's been progress, video coming soon!) Grasping a cup with two hands, raising it to his mouth, tilting it and swallowing without buckets of liquid streaming down takes a fair amount of fine-motor and oral-motor coordination. There are times during meals when Max points to the cup and gives me or Dave a look that says, "Come on, no big deal, you hold it for me."

Of course, he does not do this at school, where he traditionally does things independently even as he keeps expecting us to enable him at home. This happened with toilet training, and earlier on, with eating. I'll never forget how years ago, when we were constantly spoon-feeding Max, I stopped by his class one day and there he sat, happily shoveling food into his mouth. What?!

"How long has he been doing that?" I asked the teacher, who said it had been happening for as long as she could remember.
The other wily thing Max does is that when he is drinking by himself at home, he doesn't like me to see him doing it—cause then I will realize he actually is capable. I caught him in the act in the photo above, and he was peeved.

But I do not give in when he asks me to hold his cup, and we often fight little battles about it. (Marshmallow Daddy is known to give in, unless I am standing nearby to give him the evil eye.)

The cup Max uses is the Ergonomic Nosey Cup. "No!" he'll often say when I pull one out of the cupboard, because he knows that I'm making it easier for him and he won't have a strong case for getting me to help.

I'll pour the milk or juice, say "Fine, Max, if you don't want to have a drink, don't have a drink" and then I'll leave the room. Once he's sure I'm out of eyesight, he'll pick up the cup and drink. 

Yesterday, we had a homework stand-off over a fill-in-the-blank word worksheet. For months now we have been using an amazing app, SnapType, that enables you to snap a photo of a document with your iPad or iPhone, then type text onto the image. (I bought the pro upgrade for $2.99, which lets you save a bunch of documents.) Only Max decided he wanted to hand-write answers. His penmanship is still in the early stages, and it rivals doctors' in terms of legibility.

"You sure you don't want to use SnapType?" I asked, and he was quite sure.

Halfway through the page, when we got to a longer word ("basket"), Max decided he'd done enough and tried to hand the pencil to me.

"Nope," I said. "You're doing it. Do you want to switch over to SnapType?"

He didn't. He wrote the word. A couple minutes later, he again tried to get me to write a word for him and again I said no. When we got to the final word, Max said he was done. When I pointed out there was just one word left, he started sniveling. Still, I wasn't giving in:

"Max, finish it. Just one more word!"

A tear rolled down his face. Melt went my heart.

I desperately wish these tasks, ones that most of us take for granted, weren't so difficult for him. I'm not going to do them for him when I know he's capable—but when he reaches a point of frustration, I have to give in...a little.

"OK, we'll do it together," I said, and hand-over-hand, we did.


  1. Max will thank you for giving independence when he's older. Like most kids/teens he doesn't realize you are only doing what is best for him. And yay for achieving things we most often take for granted! Go Fireman Max!

  2. What you have to remember is this. When you give in to Max you are making him focus his energy on " what must I do to get what I want?" If he KNEW the answer were " nothing I do will change this" he can better focus his energy on the task at hand. Giving in to Max is not fair to Max.

  3. Some of the things I do my parents can't help me with because it is too advanced. I rarely want help anyway, even if I need it. I guess that's the arrogant intellectual in me.

    1. Im the same way Anna. But I have begun realizing that everyone needs help sometimes and it doesnt mean you are weak. Recognizing your struggles makes you stronger.

  4. I'm also a marshmallow Dad as well .It's funny how my son jumps when I'm like "Hey Man that's enough of that sshh .... you better eat ,the bus is coming ,stop playing me .Funny Kid , it's impossible to stay pissed at him .

  5. YES!!! although our struggles tend to be around therapies, and doing them at home. And sometimes, it's exhausting to always have to be the mean one who says "no, you have to do this" Sometimes I gotta wonder if it's worth it. Of course, we're only in kindergarten so we haven't gotten to homework yet...yikes!!

  6. I'm so relieved to know that we're not the only ones dealing with learned helplessness at home vs independence at school! My daughter takes the cup thing one step further and if she does drink by herself she then can't resist the urge to pour the rest of her milk on the table, most likely because she knows the mess makes me crazy! So instead she will pick up her cup and hand it to us to give her a drink! They certainly have figured out how to push our buttons!

  7. I need to keep reminding myself that I am doing my kid no favors by doing things for him he can do on his own. Thomas has fine motor skill issues, or did (they are improving greatly). He used to not be able to dress himself and for a while, I blamed myself because I would do it for him (before we knew he couldn't do it; I did it because I was impatient most mornings). Then we learned that it was hard for him but I started working with him on it. He still struggles with buttons on shirts and he cannot tie a shoe, but most of his shirts don't have buttons, his jeans have snaps, and his shoes mostly have velcro straps, so that helps. Sometime last year, he got himself completely dressed, even socks and shoes, one morning. It was a big deal. He still has problems figuring out his socks (he will be 7 in July) and while I know I need to encourage him to figure it out on his own, sometimes I don't feel like watching him cry and hit himself in frustration when he cannot do it. :\

    On a side note, the kid still asks us to check his butt after he's gone poop. Seriously kid? I asked him last night if he ever wipes his own butt at school. He said he doesn't poop at school. I can believe that. He went almost a full year without using public bathrooms (even the ones at school and church!). Yikes! I can say that that wiping his butt is one task I do not mind standing firm on by telling him that he can most certainly do it himself!

  8. As a special needs teacher for 20 years I applaud the parents who take the time to make them do it themselves. At school I have students who are so proud of the "no help for me" "I do it myself" then they go home and someone does it for them rather than be patient and let the child demonstrate their abilities. The learned helplessness is so hard to unlearn. I tell the kids and the parents if you want a pity party your in the wrong place. I will show you how, I might even help a time or two. But, I don't ask you to do anything you can't do. When parents come and see the work their child is doing in the classroom they are often amazed and I ask why? Don't they have responsibilities at home? I have parents telling me my child can't add "Oh really, given the proper tools your child not only adds, subtracts, but multiply and divides!" My students are so proud of the progress they make but no more proud than I am of their accomplishments.
    sure there is often pouting, even tantrums, I am told how mean I am and I hate you but I am a big girl and if you get mad you will get glad again.
    Be patient let your child do it themselves and let them learn.


Thanks for sharing!

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