Just Work Harder with Your Daughter (and other bad advice for special needs parents)

“Of course my child can do that, I taught her.”

I remember sitting around a table with a few other moms and some of their children. Over dinner, we sat and discussed life and parenting. A few of us marveled as we watched a little two year old with Down Syndrome perfectly use a fork and spoon.

It was then that the mom plainly told us that she helped her child learn to do it.

“I work with him on it, and he can do it now. The therapists told me that they can see who works with their child and who doesn’t. He can do a lot of things because I teach him.”

My wonderment of the child using utensils soon turned to embarrassment and shame. My child sitting near me was shoveling food in with her hands and sometimes with a fork that I put in her mouth. She was three and could not use utensils. Though she didn’t call me out specifically, I was left with the impression that I should be working harder with my daughter.

Work harder?

What else could I do? At least one meal a day, I helped Jaycee hold a spoon using the hand-over-hand method. I purchased a variety of spoons looking for something that could help her with the wrist motion that she could not make. I found a deep toddler plate that would help her scoop food out more easily and placed a mat under the plate to help stabilize it. She also worked on these and other skills in occupational therapy.

And still, I had to feed her because she couldn’t do it herself. Around 3.5-4 years old, she finally learned how to move her wrist and grade her movements just right to feed herself. But on that day in the restaurant, we hadn’t had that success yet.

“Just work harder with your daughter” (and other bad advice for special needs and down syndrome parents)

There are times when you feel shame while trying to do your best for your child with special needs. Even if you work on something really hard, the skills don’t come quickly. Sometimes, they never come at all. It’s frustrating and sad. Sometimes, it can bring people to judgments, even those who are in your special needs community.

Here’s the thing we should all remember, every child is different. This is true of typically developing children and children with disabilities. Not every child can excel in a spelling bee. Not everyone can understand calculus at age 16. Not everyone can hold a spoon at two.

This is a lesson that I have learned over and over again in raising Jaycee, and I have taught it to families I work with in my speech therapy practice. Parents often voice that they have tried some techniques I suggested with little or no results. They are frustrated. They want their child to talk. They believe the solution is another technique (it could be) or that they/we need to work harder.

But sometimes, there isn’t a magical fix. Sorry – I don’t want to be a downer. Sometimes, the child needs time. They need to keep practicing, developing brain and muscle memory. Their muscles may need to get stronger. They may need maturity. It may not be a question of working hard enough.

So if you’re a tired momma out there in a situation I have described, I have some advice for you. Cut yourself some slack. I’m sorry if someone made a comment that made you self-conscious and made you feel you weren’t doing enough for your child. No one is in your shoes, so try not to let it bother you. Take a moment to enjoy your child today. Celebrate the successes you have had, and try not to view those skills that haven’t been mastered as personal failures.

“Just work harder with your daughter” (and other bad advice for special needs and down syndrome parents)

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