Children with disabilities often need help with activities of daily living, but many people with disabilities can become fairly independent with the right kind of teaching and support. Fostering independence in children with disabilities improves self-esteem and allows them to take a more active role in the world around them. It also opens up new opportunities for them, allowing them to spend time with friends, to participate in after-school activities and to go places without the constant assistance of parents or caregivers. Some people with disabilities will always require assistance with some tasks, but most will benefit from becoming as independent as possible.
Encourage children with disabilities to try new things and to do things themselves if at all possible. It might be quicker or easier to do things for them, but that doesn’t foster independence.
Break complex tasks into small steps and teach your child to do one step at a time. For instance, if teaching him to make himself a sandwich, start by teaching him to gather the bread, peanut butter, jelly, a plate and a knife and carry them to the table. Then teach him to spread the peanut butter on the bread, then to spread the jelly. Finally, teach him to put away the bread, peanut butter and jelly, and to put the knife in the sink. Wait until he masters one step before moving on to the next.
Accept the fact that children with disabilities may be messy or slow when first learning new tasks. For instance, when your daughter makes her own sandwich, she may get jelly on the table and on her shirt. She still needs to learn to do things independently, though, and she will only improve if she gets plenty of practice.
Consider your child’s individual learning style when teaching him new skills to increase his independence, as recommended by the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion of South Australia. Does your child learn best by watching? By listening? By doing? Use teaching methods tailored to his preferred learning style to increase his chances of success.
Use adaptive equipment when needed to allow your child increased independence. For example, you can purchase special non-slip plates that have rims to keep food on them and utensils with extra large handles to allow your child to feed herself independently. You child’s doctor, teacher or occupational therapist can advise you about available equipment that might help your child increase her independence.