Teaching My Son With a Disability How to Use His Voice
When my son was born, I had no experience with children. I didn’t know he was going to have a disability, but having one myself, I felt mostly prepared for the journey. I also didn’t have a game plan on how to raise him, so I just learned as I went along, as I imagine most parents probably do.
One thing I did know, is I wanted him to be able to speak up when he needed or wanted something. I wanted him to have the confidence to use his voice, but also wanted to guide him on how to use it. I didn’t want him to be demanding; I wanted him to be polite and to be able to locate the proper people to communicate his needs in any situation.
I didn’t try to anticipate all of his needs before he needed them. Even if I knew what they were, I wanted him to recognize when something wasn’t working for him and communicate those needs. I started this at home, and I imagine most parents do, too. We don’t get what we want unless we use our words to ask for it properly.
He didn’t have a lot of needs when he started school associated with his disability. I had met with his teachers on parents night and discussed things that pertained to his particular situation. I did encourage him that if his needs were not being met or if something else came up, his first stop should be to discuss it with his teacher. I wanted him to have the confidence to do this even at the earliest stages of his interactions outside of our home. If he didn’t feel like the teacher was helpful, he knew I would gladly talk to them myself, but I wanted him to try first.
When he was in second grade, we moved across the country and he started at a new school. He didn’t know anyone and was a little bit shy. One day, I got a call from the school. My first thought was, “Oh no, what happened?” She said she was the speech therapist at the school. I felt a little puzzled because even though he did have trouble with the letters L and R, he had been evaluated and didn’t qualify for speech. She said, “In all my career I have never had a child come to me for help. Your child came into my office and said his name, and ‘I can’t say my L’s or R’s right, can you help me?'”
She went on to tell me that she evaluated him, and while his problems were not severe enough for the school to offer help, she was not about to turn a child away that approached her in this way. She would find a way to make it work and would get back to me later. I am not sure how she did it or what she said to the school, but for the rest of the school year, he went to speech therapy twice a week. She helped him solve this problem, and it was all because he came to her on his own and asked. Words cannot express how proud I was of him.
The rest of his time in school, anytime he had a problem, he knew first to try and see if he could work it out on his own first, knowing that if he needed me, I would be there to jump in at any time. It was rare that he was unable to work with whomever he needed to find a satisfactory solution to any problem.
I feel it is essential for any parent, but especially for those whose children may have specific needs, to teach their child to ask for the help they need. It is good for them to recognize they can do this for themselves as early as possible, whatever way they communicate; be it with words, sign language or another way, they should use their voice. It instills confidence and makes others available to them that may have other ideas for solutions to their problems. It teaches them how to negotiate in the world around them.
And like my son and I learned, It might inspire others to find a way to help in any way they can.
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