“Don’t let the medicine be a crutch.”
My friend Annie told me that her daughter’s doctor shared this in regard to the medicine she was taking for ADD. I needed to hear that from Annie, as I often struggle with my own emotions in following through with consequences to bad behavior. I told Annie that the worst time of day tends to be the morning, prior to the medicine taking effect. My daughter’s impulsivity and lack of focus tend to lead down a path of disobedience, unkind words, and meltdowns—particularly in the morning. Annie understands because she and her daughter take the same medication for ADD. Annie reminded me that in the real world—school, college, workplace—people expect good behavior, good manners, and good work regardless if the medicine is working or not. I told Annie that I tend to follow through with consequences for bad behavior, but I tend to have more grace in the morning than I should. And, when I do follow through sometimes I feel guilty for her suffering a consequence for misbehavior when her impulsivity is such a challenge in the morning.
Contemplating Annie’s advice, I thought more about the term “crutch.” In one sense, a crutch is only a support that may be needed if you have a broken or lame foot. However, in the expression she used, I immediately understood that she meant not to lean or depend on something unnecessarily. Instantly, the image of Helen Keller came to my mind. Her teacher Anne Sullivan did not allow Helen’s blindness and deafness to be an excuse for bad behavior, poor manners, or meltdowns. Working within Helen’s disability, Anne kept her expectations high for Helen’s work and behaviors. Then, my thoughts turned to a childhood favorite show Little House on the Prairie. When Mary became blind, her family felt sorry for her and began to do everything for her. Their expectations of her were very low. Consequently, Mary struggled with developing skills of independent living and struggled greatly with attitude. Then, she went off to blind school where the teacher did not allow bad behavior. She learned not to shuffle her feet when she walked, how to eat, how to read and write, how to behave as “normally” as possible.
In the last year or two, I viewed a video testimony about a man with no arms and legs. His name is Nick and some of you may have heard him speak. If not, you will want to view this video. He may not be able to function as those with arms and legs, but it is amazing how much he is able to do, and the attitude he has towards life and his disability. Certain accommodations may be needed for both physical and mental disabilities. Wheelchair ramps and elevators aid those in wheelchairs to access buildings. Braille books aid the blind in reading. Likewise, certain jobs are better suited to individuals with certain sets of strengths and weaknesses. At home, also, accommodations may need to be made. Medicine may aid those with neurological disorders. But it needs to be a ramp and not a crutch. If taken, it needs to aid and improve, but not be used to lean and depend on…and definitely not to excuse bad behavior, poor manners, or incomplete work.
Temple Grandin speaks out about Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and those on the Spectrum. She tells about how in her generation growing up good manners were strongly emphasized and expected, and she says this really helped her develop in spite of being on the spectrum. In the movie based on her life, we learn how her mother did not allow Temple’s disability to keep her from becoming successful in life. Her mother built a ramp and not a crutch.
Life presents many challenges for all of us, particularly those with physical or mental disabilities. As parents, we need to keep the bar as high as possible in terms of expecting our children to be successful. In areas of strengths, we need to challenge our children as much as possible. In areas where they are weak, we need to build ramps. What things will help them make progress even if it is incremental? What task or information will help them step up to the next? In terms of bad behavior or manners, we need to keep the bar high. I know this is challenging. Sometimes it seems overwhelming. My friend Annie suggested that I focus on five things at a time. What five things (behaviors, manners, or tasks) need the most work right now? Like the expression, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” keeping the focus areas limited helps us as parents to stay on top of them and helps our kids develop good habits or routines. Once those are developed, then we can move on to the next five.
Leaning on a crutch or building a ramp? Let’s encourage each other to prepare our kids for successful living despite the obstacles they face.
Here’s a review of a book by Temple Grandin–