Ask the Experts—Fostering Independence for a Child with Special Needs - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts—Fostering Independence for a Child with Special Needs

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This month’s question: How can I make sure that my child with special needs learns the life skills he needs to be successful when he moves out?

"First, create opportunities that allow him to become independent in and around the house. This may involve chores, handling his own finances or preparing food. This will allow you the opportunity to be available for encouragement and help—but only if absolutely necessary. Try to remain at a distance, and calm, regardless of his struggle. He needs the confidence that follows achieving a task, and you need the confidence that he will be okay without you."

"Also be cautious not to undermine his confidence; he needs to know that he is capable and you support him, but not at the risk of feeling like a failure."

Donnie Van Curen, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Counseling 1820, LLC. 405-823-4302,

"Start early! As your child grows, he can be given age-appropriate responsibilities. Help him learn independence and how to be a contributing member of the household by putting him in charge of chores or tasks he is capable of doing. Start with one task and then add another when he has mastered that task. Some life-skills you may want him to learn could include laundry, cleaning the house, taking out the trash, cooking, creating a budget and paying bills. If your child is still very young, start with simple tasks such as taking out the trash, dusting furniture, folding laundry, setting the table or helping wash dishes. Have patience if he needs assistance as he learns new skills. As he becomes more proficient, let him have more independence to use those skills. He will gain self confidence and you will gain peace of mind that he will be able to function on his own as an adult."

"As a person who grew up with a physical disability, I am very grateful my parents gave me responsibilities and had high expectations for me to be a productive member of our household, which helped me grow into a independent, productive member of society. Your son will benefit greatly from learning life skills and being accountable for tasks he is able to perform, just like any other child. Depending on his level of functioning and what type of special needs he has, you may wish to enlist the help of an occupational therapist to help him develop the life skills he will need when he moves out. If so, ask your son’s doctor for a referral."

Tamara Walker RN is a talk show host and speaker in Edmond.

"I encourage you to cast a vision for your child’s future; think of where you want him to be and work toward that goal. First, take some time to write down your goals and work out steps that will lead you to accomplishment. Use all the resources available to you—friends, family, community programs and health professionals."

"Does your plan include financial independence? Research how to set up a trust for your child. Independence? Check into workshops and programs held by local organizations. Reach out to your community to find others in the same situation and learn from their experiences."

Devonne Carter, LCSW, is a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Edmond. 405-326-3923,

Our readers respond:

  • “Always be there for him. You have taught him life skills throughout his journey so far and they will impact him the rest of his life.”
  • “You know best where his weaknesses are. Trust yourself and be available.”
  • “Talk with other parents who have successfully helped their children and ask what advice they would give to you. Be open to suggestions from those who have already gone there and have faith that you will make the best decisions to help your child when it’s his time to spread his wings and fly.”

Thanks to Kristen H., Christen H. and Lara G. for your feedback!

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