Friday, April 19, 2013

Teaching Obedience To A Child With An Intellectual Disability

Something miraculous has been happening around here the past few weeks.

Astounding. Amazing. Mind Blowing.

Perhaps to anyone else this might just be the activity of a regular day, but to me? Motherhood has never looked brighter.

What is this factor that has me gushing so melodramatically?

I'd better spell it out as to not jinx myself -O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E

My children have been obeying simple commands and requests.

It all started with Carter. Being quite the bright little boy, he has learned very quickly consequences that follow certain choices. He is not a fan of the time out game, so he adjusts behavior accordingly.

Perhaps you're saying "Um, duh, Deanna. If you're doing your job right that's what's supposed to happen. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is that I have worked so, so hard for the past three years with Addison to obey simple commands. And she won't.

"Addison, please stand here with me." "Addison please give me those shoes you're holding." "Addison STOP." "Addison come here." "Addison please take this to the trash."

Nothing has ever challenged me as much as trying to teach obedience to a child with an intellectual disability. It's hard at times not to wonder, "Does she understand?" I struggle knowing when to enforce consequences because it breaks my heart thinking of her crying in time out with no idea why she is there.

The problem is that Addison, also being a bright child, knows this. She knows to pretend like she doesn't understand even when she does. She takes advantage of this gray area of doubt to an extreme.

This makes my job very difficult. Which is why these past few years I have felt a bit like I have been buried by toddler disobedience. Running opposite directions into a busy road. Refusing to help pick up toys. Crying just to pout- not because there was a need. Wandering off and not replying with any noise when I called for her. Refusing to sit in a chair for any length of time upon request. It was like every single activity required me to keep them both completely under control- buckled into strollers, or the car, or both carried- with no choices given that could get them into trouble. This was exhausting and extremely constraining as to how much I felt I could take them out of the house.

This behavior is difficult to deal with in a three year old. My fear was that she would be fourteen and still behaving the same way. How do you teach and discipline with love when you're unsure how much is understood? How do you carry through and hear the tears and not fear that she doesn't know exactly why she is in that time out room? And then when she gets out and does the same thing immediately again, is it because she is being stubborn or simply because she didn't understand the request in the first place?

Enter: Carter

Carter has been picking up quite quickly on this obedience thing. I'm not saying he's perfect- because every day we still have to work on this very issue as he chooses to disobey from time to time. But it is quite clear that he understands, and I can see him make choices for right or wrong. When discipline is carried through- I see his attitude and pouting that remind me of myself as a disobedient child. He gets it. This has given me a lot more confidence in my mothering.

"Carter stop dancing on the dining room table." Guilty look. Pause. Glance to see if I meant it. Then a slow climb down. "Carter please bring me that bar of soap on the other end of the bath that I can't reach." A smile. A nod. A quickly moving little boy to fetch the soap that he knows will begin a sudsy head massage after he gives it to me. "Carter please go give this cracker to Addison." Meander around the house to find her. Hand her her cracker. Casually begin eating his own.

And Addison? She watches this all very carefully.

Addison's weakness is cheering. She dearly loves to be clapped for. When yelling in joy is involved, she pours her whole heart and soul into the act.

Therefore: every time Carter obeys? We all stop and cheer for him. Addison gets an interesting look on her face- trying to figure out why he's getting this royal treatment and what she can do to get it too.

My back has been bothering me quite a bit, so one thing that I need their help with is to climb out of the bathtub on their own (because lifting them out can be quite painful). So the request has been to climb out WHEN I say they can- not a minute sooner, and then coming over to the towel that I have ready for them and lying down on it instead of running naked through the house yelling and bladder releasing in random places on the floor.

Carter got it on the first try. It was cute watching him figure out "lying down" and which angle would work the best for him. I didn't ask the same of Addison because it seemed like a complicated request which she usually ignores anyway.

The next day, Carter by request laid down again on the towel so that I could dry him off and dress him. So obedient. Made me smile. Then, to my utter shock and surprise, Addison came over and immediately laid down on the towel. All by herself. Even though I didn't ask her to.

She watched Carter obey- get cheered for, and then she just did it on her own, giving me this look of pure joy that she could be counted among the obedient- and most importantly, get cheered for as well. After they were both dressed- we had a mega cheering session for obedience. That looked like this:
We still have a long way to go. But I am so thankful for the baby steps. I am so thankful for what Carter is teaching me about training for obedience so that I can apply it to teaching Addison. I am so thankful for how much they influence each other and Addison's desire to follow her brother's lead. I am thankful that because of Carter's influence, they will now both walk out to the car on their own and STOP upon request when they are running towards danger. I am thankful for the willingness they have to learn together.

Carter- sorry to use you, buddy. But I think you just might be the secret here for Miss Addison's obedience. It makes it much less appealing for her to pretend not to understand when she sees how much you benefit when you choose obedience...

1 comment:

  1. Your children could not be cuter! I love your words of advice. Those big smiles make me so happy!


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