Living with a disability is no easy feat. Even the most basic tasks of daily living can be challenges and require many tries to conquer.
Unfortunately, while there may seem to be plenty of resources and support systems available to you, you may find that they cannot give you the help, the knowledge, and the motivation, that you need to flourish and to live a high functioning, independent and fulfilling life.
Types of Disabilities and their Challenges
Disabilities come in many forms; however, they can generally be classed into two distinct categories: physical disabilities and learning disabilities.
Physical disabilities include:
- Muscular dystrophy
- Brain and spinal injuries
- Cerebral palsy
- Spina bifida
In most cases, these disabilities result in a lack of mobility, of coordination, and of muscular development. They make simple, everyday tasks such as getting dressed, tying your shoes, and eating difficult and frustrating.
With these disabilities, disability-specific therapy should be coupled with some sort of physical therapy (for example, physiotherapy combined with special exercises and routines designed specifically for that disability).
Learning disabilities include:
- Dyslexia (trouble reading)
- Dyscalculia (trouble with math)
- Dysgraphia (trouble writing)
- Dyspraxia (trouble with learning motor skills)
- Auditory and visual processing problems
These can all create significant hindrances, but it is important to remember that children with these disabilities are not necessarily intellectually impaired; their brains are simply wired differently, and as such they require different methods of learning to succeed.
Many people with learning disabilities have had enormously successful lives. The most important thing is having the right support system. With the right therapy, coaching, and mentoring, a child with a learning disability can go on to learn and achieve things that they never thought were possible! Some famous people with dyslexia are actress Keira Knightley, actor Orlando Bloom, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, financier Charles Schwab, and entrepreneur Richard Branson. For more about famous people with learning disabilities, click here, and here, and here.
A person with a disability wants nothing more than to be treated as normal, the same as everyone else.
They want the power to make their own decisions. They want to attempt to overcome challenges without unnecessary help. They want a sense of independence and accomplishment.
As a motivational speaker and disability support specialist (as well as someone with a life-long diagnosis of cerebral palsy and dyslexia), this is the most crucial point I try to get across: never treat a person with a disability as someone who is incapable of functioning independently.
Allowing them even the most basic choices (what to eat, what to wear) will have a positive impact. Further, if a child is struggling with a task, allow them the opportunity to attempt it by themselves. If they are unable to do it, then provide only enough help to allow them to succeed at the task. Make it clear that each time they try will increase their likelihood of success. Their efforts may be frustrating, but they are not wasted.
Remember, always ask if they want help before providing it, and schedule enough of your time so you can provide the help they need without stressing out. Providing help while you are stressing about missed work or other obligations will not help anyone.
Dismissing a request for help with a comment that it is easier for you to do it for them will not help, either. It will only hammer your child’s self-confidence. Doing it for them may seem easier in the moment, but only in this one passing moment that will soon be gone.
On a deeper level, providing help only upon request will reinforce the idea that it was their decision—they chose to allow someone to help them, whether that someone was a parent or a professional. Giving a person a sense of control and independence in life will do more for them than almost anything else you can do.