Wednesday 17 March 2021

Helping our kids develop their independence

Raising our kids is a real privilege.  Many people miss that just because they have challenges that it's  wonderful to watch them grow and flourish as they grow.  i'm proud of so many of all my kids achievements but have to admit that with our autistic son's, one of the most difficult aspects of raising them is their struggles with freedom and independence.  It's sometimes easiest to just let them rely on me   as their parent for nearly every part of life. Easiest.. for a while but I've been thinking especially as they are now 10 and 12 that I really need to help them do more themselves. 

Provide them with several different choices

One of the easiest ways to start to help any child build their independence is by giving them an array of different choices, allowing them to be more in control of their life and the decisions that have been made. This method can be implemented in many situations, and can start off basic and dependent on their motivations.  When David is hungry, we nearly always give him a choice of snack, we let Anthony choose what to wear and we can give them a choice between activities.

Giving them the chance to advocate for their own personal preferences is one of the best ways to introduce them to freedom and independence, as they'll begin to enjoy making decisions for themselves and aim to continue.

Avoid doting on their every need

I do this one soo easily.. without even thinking.  If one of our kids is fully capable of performing a task such as brushing their hair on their own or getting changed without any assistance, then I must let them do it. Not necessarily everyday - we'd never get out the house is David we left to dress him himself!  He has no concept of time so it doesn't natter to him whether it takes 5 minutes, 50 minutes or even 5 hours to get dressed as long as it doesn;t interrupt with anything else he wants to do, like eating lunch for example. 

It may seem easier to do everything for them, for the sake of time and tantrums, but this will not help them in the slightest as time goes by. Sometimes the barrier in-between them and an ability to be independent is me - if I dote on their every need and do not give them the opportunity to perform any task for themselves, they won't even know where to begin.  They're likely going to need a considerable amount more practice than another child, so keep on giving them different opportunities to practice and improve their skills over and over again.

Don't make every thing inside their comfort zone

Making the mistake of dumbing down every task to ensure your child is able to succeed is one of the worst decisions ever, as this can give off the false impression that the rest of society will be equally as accommodating (which simply is not the case). 

Some days of course everything has to be 'just so' for David or super easy for Anthony.  Variation can be a challenge, but when the time is right offering to do a new thing or even just having it happen in the background can break them out of the sameness and offer and opportunity t try something new or just outside of their comfort zone.  

Whether it's something new on TV, a new activity, things done in a different order (what no way!) or even a slightly differently laid out lunch.  When I think they can cope, I try to remember to try something, they often surprise me (or at least make me laugh when the wrongly laid out lunch is corrected:-)).

It's this kind of thinking that means we can took our pre-verbal autistic son ziplining across the Canadian Rockies.  So I know for us, it works. 

Make use of assistive devices

In recent years, the sheer volume of new assistive devices that have burst onto the market have made life so much more enjoyable for disabled people all around the world. Whether it’s a communication device that allows them to stay social with their friends and family, special utensils that make independent eating aeasier, there are so many options available for all conditions to make life easier. One of the most amazing options that your child can look into as they reach the age of becoming a young adult is an assistive vehicle, as you can explore the many SUV motability offers. All of these devices have been specially designed to support disabled people become more successful and independent.  David uses his iPad for many things, but we've recently looked in assistive communication apps so if anyone has had success, please let me know!

Setting goals and offering rewards

A brilliant way to help our kids to feel the need to become more independent involves setting a range of achievable goals that can motivate them to gain more skills to access greater freedom. We set goals with Anthony for simple things and he is rewarded with extra screen time or games (mostly screen time I'll be honest).  But it motivates him to independently do things and that's great.  David has rewards as part of a way to learn many thins, such as appropriate behaviour and generally as a learning tool. 

It's not easy to help kids and our autistic kids in particular gain freedom and independence, but the time and energy is most definitely worth it. And one day I'll be thankful I waited an hour for David to get himself dressed, because he'll be doing it himself. 



  1. Good post. I found it helpful to reflect on what worked and didn't work as I was raising my children. Your point about technology is so hopeful. Technology has really improved the quality of life for my son with Down Syndrome, who is now 26 years old. He loves his phone and PC, and gets lots of brain stimulation from them. I'm glad he has these - he has learned a lot from the technology that wasn't available in previous generations.

  2. Definitely so important to encourage independence in kids, at whatever level is appropriate for them :) Know what you mean about it sometimes being all too easy just to do things for them yourself though! #KCACOLS

  3. A really interesting post. I think it's very important to encourage independence but I can absolutely see it's a battle with yourself. As a mother I want to help Iris in anyway I can but that does breed dependance and thankfully at the minute she won't let me help her in anyway so independence is coming naturally to her. Growing up I was a little bit shielded from things, I went to a quiet church school so secondary school was quite the revelation. My mum has always, and still does, try to protect me from feeling stressed but that is at the cost of my independence. We've both found when she's unavailable that I actually flourish, which in turn boosts my self esteem. Thank you so much for linking up with #KCACOLS

    1. That's really interesting Katrina - thanks for sharing that.

  4. All of this is great but I particularly love your first line. Being a parent really is the best thing that every happened to me. It is a privilege #KCACOLS

  5. Great post and super helpful for many parents.
    It is so easy for parents to do too much for their children.
    I know I have especially when time is the essence. xx #KCACOLS

  6. I think I don't ever think of it as a privilege – it's the hardest job I've ever had, and one I couldn't quit. #KCACOLS


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