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Tips to Build Independence in Children

Developing independence in children with disorders like ADHD, Asperger syndrome (ASD) and Processing Disorders is not easy. In fact, it can take an infinite amount of patience.  Parents often find themselves fighting the urge to jump in and do something for their children when they know that they can, or should, step back and let their children step up.

It may seem easier for parents to perform everyday tasks on behalf of their children simply because it takes less time, or it is the easiest way to avoid a meltdown. However, parents who do not let their children take over the reins can do more harm than good. It's important to start building independence now in order to prepare children with special needs for adulthood. Try the following tips to help your child to learn independence.

A Step-by-Step Approach to Learning New Tasks

To develop childhood independence, children need frequent opportunities to try out new tasks for themselves. Parents can play a key role in the process by teaching their children new skills gradually, using a step-by-step approach. At first, it may be difficult for parents to teach their children independence skills, especially if they have spent so much time caring for and making decisions on behalf of their children. However, when parents are consistent, and give their children the expectation that they have to do things for themselves, victory will be more likely.

Setting and Achieving Ability-Appropriate Expectations

Parents of children with these challenges are often reluctant to foster independence in their children for fear of overwhelming them with responsibilities. However, they may find that their children are just as keen to develop independence as their peers.

Some traits, like difficulty with organization and reluctance to seek help, can make the process more challenging, but the key to success is to develop independence over time. Children with neurobehavioral disorders may need more time and more specific instruction to accomplish tasks, but by managing expectations and providing step-by-step verbal directions and prompt sheets, parents can encourage their children to gain independence.

Overcoming Obstacles to Gaining Independence

The hallmark symptoms of many neurobehavioral disorders - forgetfulness, inattentiveness and impulsivity - may require parents to stay on top of their children’s progress. When teaching independence skills, parents should use behavior-specific praises, such as “great job putting the pillow in the pillowcase,” to help children understand the specific actions they have executed well.

Parents who struggle to resist the urge to intervene when their children show signs of frustration or distractibility should leave the room and grant their children the chance to get back on track or ask for help. They should only step in and give their children the help they need upon sensing growing frustration. Children may express disappointment when their efforts to complete a task fail, but parents should focus on praising well-executed processes and systems.

Learning to Let Go

The road to independence for children with neurobehavioral disorders may be longer and more challenging than it is for their peers. However, there are opportunities for parents to encourage their children to take on more responsibility at every stage of development. The earlier parents start to foster independence in their children, the easier it is for the child to learn to stand on their own two feet.

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