Focus on Your Child's Strengths
Although your child will face physical and developmental challenges, he or she will have a distinct personality and distinct strengths. It can be tempting to focus upon the things your child can't do or isn't interested in, but this type of attention leads to a negative cycle in which both you and your child become frustrated. Another approach for children with special needs is called Responsive Teaching, where parents and caregivers respond to the areas of interest and strength that the child already exhibits, leading to positive emotions and growth on both sides.
Gerald Mahoney, Ph.D., one of the pioneers of the Responsive Teaching approach, explains that when parents are trained to respond well to their child, it leads to increased cognition and communication. Mahoney's program offers 65 different strategies to help parents learn to be responsive. He lists behaviors such as, "reciprocity, a balanced interaction where parent and child are contributing equally and responding to and effecting behavior of the other person; contingency, where the parent focuses on responding quickly and supportively to behaviors their child initiates; shared control or non-directiveness, when parents are moderately directive with their child, which allows him to be more responsive; parental affect, which focuses on parents' expressiveness, enjoyment, and acceptance of their child; and interactive match, in which parents focus on doing things with their child that are matched to the current level of developmental functioning and behavioral ability."
We had the opportunity to hear Dr. Mahoney speak when Penny was only two months old, and we tried to take his advice and focus on her many strengths. Keeping a positive attitude became easier as we realized that there are organizations, doctors, therapists, teachers, other parents, and family and friends who want to support and encourage us every step of the way. Penny is about to reach her sixth birthday, and Down syndrome has largely faded into the background of our family life as we have fallen more and more in love with our daughter.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.
Amy Julia Becker blogs at Thin Places (www.patheos.com/blogs/thinplaces). She is the author of "A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny" and she lives with her husband and three children in New Jersey.
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