Guest Post: Great Expectations – Establishing a Healthy Relationship Between Parents and Children with I/DD

By Ivanova Smith
The Arc of King County is delighted to provide learning opportunities to interns and volunteers. Today we invited Ivanova Smith, one of our dedicated interns from Outreach, to share her thoughts about expectations. 

Expectations, they are a great thing to have and can help people plan their future. Lots of expectations were put on me in my life. Lots of them reasonable and helpful. But some of them are not helpful at all. When expectations are too high it can be emotionally damaging to those who try to live up to them. This is especially true for people with I/DD.  But not having any expectations for us can be just as harmful.

For example parents that have children with I/DD may have the idea that their children with disabilities will always be a child. So they try not to have expectations of that child to want to grow up and learn do things on their own. Instead they get stuck, and even when they became an adult physically, they are not treated with the same respect because they were never expected to grow-up. Of course, the problem is that we do grow up.

I wish more families understood this because the mindset that we are mentally stuck in a child-like mindset has hurt the I/DD Community for so long. In the eugenic era, it was used to justify imprisoning people with I/DD. We were segregated and told we were not allowed the same freedoms of adult American citizens. It is because of this mindset that babies of I/DD parents are more likely to be taken away from their parents because the government believes they can’t raise the baby.

It needs to stop. When negative attitudes and crappy old theories of mental age bar people with disabilities from their civil right there it is harmful. I want to encourage parents of children with I/DD to please consider how hurtful this theory is. It allows the government to take away our rights.

One of the greatest things my family did was to instill the idea that I had to take responsibility in my life. They expected that I was going to be an adult, and when that time came, they expected me to become independent. Now I am not saying that we don’t need support, because we do.  I just think that adults with I/DD need to be respected as adults. We need people to respect our decisions respected and allow us to have control over our lives.IMG_8493

I hate hearing stories of parents not allowing their adult children to have a say in their own income. This is not healthy or encouraging to a person with disabilities. In most cases it not intended to be mean, but it makes the assumption of no competence. If we want to help people with I/DD to gain equal access to community and have full civil rights, we need to teach them that they will grow up to be adults. We should help them plan for that future and teach advocacy and self-determination at an early age. Show them the Bill of Rights and teach them about disability pride. We are citizens and we want to be respected and seen as competent.

Of course, we also need to do it in a loving, accepting way. It not good to push the child to the point of meltdown. It helps if you work alongside your child. If they are having problems at first, help them with the issue. Try to make it fun and let them do at their pace. Don’t force high expectations without asking the child what they expect for themselves. Show respect for your child by asking them about their future desires. It is very powerful because you are showing that you believe in them.

My best advice to parents is to respect all boundaries, listen to your child’s needs and wishes, and never shame a child for having a limitation.  With these ideas in mind, you will create great expectations for your child to become an active member of our community as an adult.


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