Thin Line Between Helping and Enabling My Special Needs Child

Girl helping mother to wash clothesMy special needs daughter always wants help. As she gets older I want her to start being more independent, which means that sometimes I say no when she asks for help. I encourage her and tell her I know she can do it on her own. And I feel guilty about it.

For a long time I didn’t say no – I helped. And helping usually means doing it for her. I mean, her fine motor skills challenges make it tough to put clothes on hangers and then hang them in her closet. But as time went on I was getting worn out. I also started to think that I was being conned.

Sure enough, with the right amount of bribery, she was suddenly able to manage the hangers. But not before a very dramatic outburst where she tearfully asked if I was never going to help her again for the rest of her life. I assured her that I would always be there to help with the big things for the rest of her life, but it was my job to make sure she could do as much as possible on her own as she grows up. She wasn’t happy about it, but she understood.

There have been countless times when I have been tempted to step in and help with tasks. Many times it is just easier – and quicker and neater, too. Sometimes she truly does need some assistance, but sometimes if I just hold back a moment longer she manages to do it. Maybe not perfectly, but that’s okay!

Then there are times when she doesn’t really need help…she just wants help. This brings up another issue – is she avoiding things that are challenging to her, or just avoiding work altogether? The jury is still out on this one. Sometimes she will admit that she just wants company, so I try to join her while she completes her task. But still, somehow, I end up being the one who does it. I have to catch myself, because those are the times when I am enabling and not helping. And in the long run that is not helping her at all.

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About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner. She can be reached at Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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