“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” — Ann Landers
Transition is defined as the process of changing from one state or condition to another. We all go through many transitions throughout our lives. I never really thought much about transitions until I had a son with a disability and began to hear other parents and professionals warn about the difficulties of post-secondary transition as if it was something that I, as the parent of a child with a disability, should be preparing for like it was the end of the world. At first, it was scary and intimidating, but then I began to put it in perspective and thought . . . let me handle each period of change in my son’s life as if it were a mini run-though of the fearful post-secondary transition to come. I also realized that preparation for transition begins at home.
Gaining the skills that support transitioning is not a passive process. Children, youth, and young adults need to be shown and taught the behaviors that will help them be successful and they need opportunities to practice them frequently.
As parents, we need to accept the disability—in my case, deaf-blindness. I needed to think positive and be proactive. Modeling self-advocacy early in life for our children and teens is so crucial. Being blind and/or deaf is not a barrier, only an inconvenience. There really are no limits. Having and promoting a positive attitude inspires accomplishment.
Giving our children numerous opportunities for exploration and problem solving is a must for their development. Each and every opportunity for independent action should be encouraged. If we over-protect our children, our fears will become their fears. We, as parents, need to allow them to express curiosity in their own ways, rather than in the ways we think it should occur. This does not always happen in a day, a month, or even a year, so patience is important. We must allow for and embrace our children’s independence and development.
It is important to create opportunities for children to become independent in and around the home. We must teach our teens to be contributing members of our households by enforcing chores such as cooking, laundry, and finances. As much as I know that it is often easier to “do for” our children, this does not teach them what they need to know. There is such a difference between teaching children to ask for help and always doing things for them. Be available to give advice and encouragement, but do not undermine their confidence. It is totally okay to have high expectations for teens to carry out age-appropriate responsibilities.
Learning and maintaining social skills can be difficult, so we need to make time to help our children develop them in a proactive way. Like most other skills, social skills need to be pre-taught and re-taught, over and over. We need to learn methods to teach social skills through sensory channels beyond those that are visual and auditory. I know that for myself, I continually struggle to teach the nonverbal cues that my son often misses. I would love to hear how others handle this. In addition, as hard as it may be, we need to use constructive criticism with our children, youth, and young adults, even though it is often much easier to just ignore poor social skills. I always think to myself, “Can I turn this into a ‘teaching moment’?”
It is absolutely essential for our kids to learn socially correct ways to act if we want them to be skilled and proficient individuals. They need to know how to make conversation with teachers, professors, co-workers, and friends. They need to be able to have public conversations that involve both expressive and receptive communication about appropriate topics. And, of course, dining and polite eating skills must be taught and reinforced.
We all wish only the best for our children, teens, and young adults. Blindness, deaf-blindness, and disability are not and cannot be acceptable excuses for lack of skill attainment. When thinking about what to teach my own son, I often ask myself, “If this were a sighted or hearing person, would these be appropriate actions?” It is an easy and simple way to do a quick reality check.
It takes a lifetime of practice to help a child prepare for transition, but our efforts will only benefit all of those who are involved. By providing good opportunities for development, parents, other family members, and teachers will help our children, youth, and young adults excel at whatever they choose to do. Everything we teach will positively impact the rest of their lives.
By Patti McGowan