A few weeks back, as part of my post on trying to balance our needs as a special needs family, I suggested attempting to challenge your special needs child as a way to re-balance the needs of the whole family.
I’ve received a few questions about this suggestion so I wanted to expand on that point further and reinforce the truth that it IS okay to throw a challenge their way.
Especially if that means finding some much needed balance for your family.
I would even go as far as saying that it’s essential you challenge them from time to time.
I can only speak from my own experience, but we need to challenge Gilbert. If we don’t, he gets too comfortable. But not comfortable in a happy way. We have found that if we continue to give into his demands for time at home, he will just demand more – nothing will ever be enough.
For a long time we have been constrained by the limits we (and he) have placed on what we are prepared to do as a family. As many other ASD families would understand, it is easy to take the easy road – to limit change in family life; to stick to what is known and tolerated; to not cause undue stress and anxiety where possible.
While this strategy helps in the short term, to keep the peace and limit emotional exhaustion for everyone involved, in the long term, it’s not the best way for families to live. What about other siblings? What about the needs and wants of the parents? What will the ASD child be missing out on if this way of life is maintained?
So, in 2014, after 9 years of playing it safe, we decided to take a chance and travel to New Zealand with the family. It could have been an unmitigated disaster. But it wasn’t. We planned and prepped everyone and everything, and returned having had the best holiday of our lives. It was a turning point for us. It showed us that we could try things and that, with lots of planning, our son could cope.
The rest of 2014 was spent consolidating these gains and moving onto other challenges, like increasing his diet. We didn’t make much progress in what he would actually eat BUT we made huge strides in helping Gilbert accept new food on his plate without setting him off into an instant meltdown. Slow and steady progress, yet progress nonetheless.
We had even more ambitious goals for 2015, which included our family holiday of a lifetime to the USA. We spent nearly 4 weeks away from home, and while there, we visited the biggest and busiest theme park in the world – Walt Disney World.
To get there we experienced a 15-hour long plane trip over to the US and back again, plus 2 5-hour domestic flights across the US.
And we set out on a cruise for the first time. Which was all sorts of brilliant!
These were big challenges for all of us. Especially for Gilbert. And he met every single one we set for him.
This year’s goal is to institute a weekly family outing to Parkrun. Gilbert is not at all keen, although he has completed Parkrun before. He would much prefer to spend his entire weekend at home, doing his own thing and he’s currently very unhappy that we are not budging in our resolve. But we want to become more active as a family and we know that he will eventually accept the challenge of that single planned outing each week.
The idea of challenging your special needs child can be confronting and there will be cases where this may not be possible. However, I’m sharing our experiences to illustrate what is possible if you decide to take the leap and challenge the status quo in your family.
Obviously there is a fine line between challenging your child and pushing them too far and it can be hard to walk that line. I’m the first to admit there have been times in the past when I have pushed my kids a little too far.
It’s part of that endless push/pull within every family – the battle to balance the very real needs of the special needs child with the equally important needs of the other members of the family.
In our case there is this endless pushing and pulling to find middle ground. My son, content to leave things as they are and stay put. And us, striving to take our family forward and dragging him along, often unwillingly, in the process.
Our son doesn’t like unknowns or surprises or situations that challenge him. But life is full of unknowns, surprises and challenging situations. So we are constantly trying to break these barriers and take him through them with us, so he can experience some of the many amazing things that life has to offer.
Because if we don’t push him, we will be reinforcing his need for rigidity and not preparing him for the life of unknowns ahead.
Despite his protests, he always rises to the challenge. We’ve supported him through the arrival of his youngest sister. We’ve helped him welcome pets into our family. And we’ve guided him on two overseas holidays. All sources of much angst, stress and upset to him in the months leading up to each event.
It’s never easy and it takes a LOT of preparation but we do survive each challenge. And so does he. He will never be comfortable in new situations. That’s just the way it will always be. But we need to take the chance to live as WE wish to live too, not only as HE wants to.
In the end you will never know how far you can go unless you give your child the opportunity to try.
Just like Gilbert, they might very well surprise you.
And that is why I believe it’s okay to challenge your special needs child.