Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Life is Therapy--Goals

New to the Life is Therapy series? Here's a quick blurb to tell you what it's about:

Sometimes we parents can get bogged down in the notion that the teaching of our children must be done by professionals. Parents of children with special needs are particularly vulnerable to this idea since children with special needs often have to learn and develop quite differently than children with typical needs. This series centers around the idea that learning can and does occur most effectively through everyday life experiences at home and out in the community--for children with both typical and special needs.

For the last few weeks, I've written about how to get your child's attention, remembering how far your child has come and noticing what your child is doing. That's a whole lot of time spent paying attention to where your kiddo has been and what he is currently doing but you want your kiddo to learn, to grow, to develop, not to stay where he has been or where he is. It will happen. I promise!

But first, let's talk a little about expectations. If you're new to the blog, take a moment and go back and read this post about expectations and then this follow up post. The point is that a parent's expectations and your ability to let go of those expectations or not can really make a difference in whether you and your child are enjoying your time together.

And a child is really not learning a whole lot when he is fussing and whining and crying and focused on the fact that he/she is unhappy for whatever reason. A child cannot focus on what you are trying to help him or her learn when he/she is upset. Go ahead. Try it for yourself. Next time you get good and mad for any reason, pick up a how to book on something you've never done before and give it a try. You are not going to achieve your best results.

Being able to let go of expectations does not mean that you don't set goals for your child. I'm not even telling you to not have expectations. Expectations and anticipation can be a lot of fun as long as you are willing to realize that things may not work out quite as you expect and that's okay too.

So, how should you set goals? What can you expect? Dr. James MacDonald is very fond of saying on his Communicating Partners Yahoo message group that you should expect your child to do a lot of what he is already doing and just a little more. He encourages parents to be the child plus one.

The idea is that you meet your child where he/she is. Join the child at his current ability level and then show him/her just the next step. This doesn't work only with speech and communication. It can work with absolutely anything that you want your child to learn.

For example, when your child first learns to walk you allow him/her to hold on to your fingers. Slowly but surely you drop the amount of support you provide. You would not expect your beginning walker to run a marathon the day he/she starts walking. That would be silly, wouldn't it?

What are some other concrete examples? Let's talk about getting dressed. The ultimate goal for most people is to have your child be able to dress him/herself independently and look this smashingly handsome

You can't just hand your kiddo a stack of clothes and expect him/her to know what to do. You have to pick a starting point. Many therapists recommend a technique called "Backwards chaining". The idea is that you allow the child to finish the process. Think of the steps involved in putting on a shirt.
1. Put one arm in shirt sleeve.
2. Put other arm in other shirt sleeve.
3. Pull shirt over head.
4. Pull shirt down over torso and down to waist or however long the shirt is.

In backwards chaining, your first point of focus would be getting your child to do step 4. If your child is not yet helping with dressing at all, you will first make sure to talk about all the steps but particularly pay attention to step 4. Then after your child is in the routine of hearing you talk about each of the steps, you add one more thing. You ask him/her to help complete step 4. At first, you will assist him/her in doing it but gradually you provide less and less assistance until the child is doing step 4 independently. Once your child is confidently doing step 4, you ask him/her to assist with step 3 and so on until suddenly, magically one day he/she snaps that shirt on all by him/herself. Again, I can't guarrantee you these kind of adorable results....

which would be much more adorable if my camera phone were not acting strange.
but I can tell you that you will be quite surprised to find out how much your child is able to do using these techniques.

There are several ideas incorporated here. You are breaking up the task into manageable bits. You are breaking the manageable bits into even more manageable bits. You are not overwhelming your child with an unreachable goal. You are allowing your child the success of finishing the task each time versus keeping your child in a mindset of needing you to finish the task.
To review other Life is Therapy posts, click on the title:
Introductory Post
Prepositions at the Park
Rainy Days
Getting Your Child's Attention
Relfecting on Where You've Been
What's in Your Child's World

Now it's your turn to participate. This is where we share our ideas and stories with one another. We're all in this together. Let's laugh together, motivate one another, and stimulate each others ideas. If you have a blog, create your own "life is therapy" post and link to the specific post in the Mr. Linky below. If you don't have a blog just leave a comment with your life is therapy story.


mommytoalot said...

Great post Marie!
So very true. Backward chaining...my gosh..i haven't even thought about that..we learned that in school.(i took educational resources and special needs)
The end result for Jack..extremely adorable..!!
Playing along today..it just may be a little late.

Rachel said...

Great post! I often have the opposite problem - I just keep doing things the same way we've always done them because it's easier. Getting dressed is a good example - I have to make a conscious effort to encourage Ali to learn how to dress herself, or I'll just keep doing it mindlessly.

Thanks for the encouragement!

Territory Mom said...

This is sooooo helpful. When my little guys dresses himself everything is on backwards.

Jamie said...

Excellent point Marie! I sometimes sit back and realize that I'm expecting way too much from my four yr. old. She seems so mature sometimes that I often forget she's only four. It's a hard lesson to learn for us parents as we're all in a hurry to get to one place or the next. But the most important thing is to enjoy the time you do have together. Thanks for the post!

Marie said...

It's easy to go too far one way or the other--either do everything for them or expect them to do everything. I have found that it is really helpful to consider all the steps involved in a request when I find myself frustated with Jack's "dawdling". He's usually not dawdling. It takes time to process through the full request. When I'm good, I remember to break it down for him back to a manageable task.

Michelle said...

great post with a lot of insight into those small steps we sometimes just don't think about!