If your child — or, let’s be frank, your husband — has been recently diagnosed with special needs, you might be fretting that life will be harder to deal with now. The truth is that it’s about to get much easier. The diagnosis doesn’t change anything about the problems you have today except that it gives you an entity to blame — the disability — and it gives you a wealth of knowledge about how to change your current habits to adapt. Here are some classic examples:
Put Everything in Writing — and in Public
Learning and attention disabilities affect both children and adults in one predictable way: it makes their memory malfunction, most often in relationship to things that they are the least interested in. You’ve probably heard the term “selective memory” — for people with these disabilities, that’s a horrible truth, because their memory is actually selective… it’s just not in their control! So posting reminders of what is supposed to be done by whom (and by when) in a common area like the fridge or the bathroom mirror should become a habit for everyone.
Play to Each Person’s Strengths — and Admit Each Person’s Weaknesses
Every disability is slightly different, and leads the person coping with it to behave slightly differently. The big challenge here is getting the disabled individual to admit that no, they really have no ability to deal with money (or detail work like folding laundry, or sustained effort like reorganizing the pantry, or whatever.) Once each person is able to relinquish control over those areas they simply aren’t equipped to deal with, tasks can be reassigned based on strengths, and tasks that have no ‘strong’ individual can be assigned to the family as a whole to be overseen collectively.
Enable Everyone to be Self-Reliant
Each person in a special needs family will need their own tools for taking as much control as they’re able. In a family with a hyperactive child, an inattentive father, and a physically disabled but executively strong mother, for example:
• The child might have a set of fridge magnets to move around indicating which chores are done and which remain to be tackled.
• The father might have a phone or other device loaded up with a calendar app, an alarm clock app, and a list-keeping app that allows him to keep track of daily tasks using alarms, one-time tasks using the calendar, and things like shopping lists using the list app.
• The mother might have a walker that can be used as a stool and a chair, to enable her to do basic work around the house while maintaining the ability to sit when- and where-ever necessary and get to the high shelves for whatever needs arise.
When each person is given the tools they need to function without constant assistance, the expectation of self-reliance becomes the culture, and everyone benefits.
Don’t Take Anything Too Seriously
This is probably the single most important piece of advice for a family with multiple different disabilities interacting on a day-to-day basis. Learning to recognize when your disability has struck, point it out, and laugh about it is the most powerful tool to improve your long-term chances of success — whatever your definition of success might be