Guide To Parenting Disabled Adults
Disabilities come in so many forms and levels of impairment.
For some, raising a child with a disability is but the first phase of a lifelong dedication to supporting their loved one. For others, a disabled child turning 18 is largely a milestone of independence like any other teenager entering adulthood, with little to no requirement for parental support. But for thousands of families, the reality sits somewhere between the two, begging the question; “how do we give our adult child the support they need without preventing their independence?”
The answer is not straightforward but rather nuanced and dependent on your child and the help available.
Occupational Therapist support
Lean on the help of an occupational therapist
Occupational therapists are a fantastic source of support for any parent raising a disabled child, but play a crucial role in facilitating moments of transition from child to teen, teen to adult and so on. A care plan is different for each client, but there’s one thing that’s consistent; they evolve as time goes on. Clients’ mobility may improve or reduce over time depending on the source of their impairment, making an OT integral to designing a day to day plan that suits them.
An OT is motivated by not just delivering a care plan that helps families and the individual carry out daily tasks like bathing, dressing, feeding, but they strive to help mobility impaired clients do the things they want to do in life – that can mean hobbies, socialising and working a job.
The occupational therapist provides another crucial role; that of the independent, outside voice and a varied lens having both holistic and medical insight in how to aid the individual in doing what is important to them. Adult children have listened to their parents for a long time – it’s very typical for the effects of what parents say to subside greatly over time as their adult child (rightly) seeks more independence from their parents. Thus, the impact of an outside source may be more influential as their suggestions and resources may be varied and new to the child.
If a child has had the disability growing up, the concept of an occupational therapist should be quite familiar. Provided they have an OT in whom they trust to unlock the daily life they’re after, these therapeutic relationships are built on trust and respect with the highest importance emphasised in listening to what is important to the individual.
Planning is essential
Building a daily and weekly plan
Routine is not just best practice for young children, but adults as well. Parents who are still involved with their adult child’s disability care can offer much better, stable help by being part of a broader daily plan. Again the occupational therapist will help facilitate this plan, but parents may form parts of this. There will be daily activities such as using the bathroom or eating meals, and then things that occur once a week or month such as hobbies, going to the movies, social occasions or health appointments.
The plan should be owned and dictated largely by the mobility impaired individual, with OT and parents helping to enable that plan. When you’ve got an adult capable of making their own decisions, parents need to be careful not to put their own opinions or preferences over what their son or daughter’s.
Helping your adult child live an adult life
Much like we want to help our children live a life that’s not defined by their mobility impairment, our adult children equally don’t want this to prevent being an adult. Becoming an adult means different things for people, but in a lot of cases there’s some defining characteristics of an adult life:
- Having a job and/or regular commitment like study or volunteering
- Pursuing and enjoying adult relationships
- Keeping a good circle of friends
- Attending extended family events like Christmas
- Practicing a hobby and joining community groups
There’s no way to apply one set of activities to any one person. Mobility impairment is experienced differently by everyone. An OT, along with the doctor or the person’s medical team will be able to provide guidance on the balance between support and independence to help the individual in their desired activities and occupations in ways that meet their abilities. In this increasingly-accessible and inclusive age, there are more job opportunities for mobility impaired people than ever before.
And with online communities crossing over into local ones, groups of people with disabilities are regularly coming together and forming close friendships.
Knowing when to step out of the way
It’s rare that parents get involved in their adult children’s lives with anything other than the best of intentions. We never stop caring about our children, even as they enter their 20s, 30s and so on. This is why it can be unnatural and scary to step back and allow our kids to realise their potential as adults.
Too much involvement can push our loved ones away, or prevent them from taking a leading role in their lives. This might be met with rejection or an unnecessary degree of reliance upon you as a parent when the level of impairment may not require this.
Giving our children the space to learn and grow on their own as adults creates a much more positive parent/child relationship in what we’ve seen with our Showerbuddy community families. Over time, the working relationship transfers away from the parent and onto the adult child who feels much more in control of their lifestyle.
Assistive technologies can help
The benefits of assistive technologies
While mobility equipment has existed in different forms for hundreds of years, there’s never been the level of technology helping our mobility impaired community as there is today. While equipment like chairs, lifts, grips and modified transport is useful for parents with disabled young children, these become even more crucial as the individual grows into a full sized adult:
- Lifting becomes harder and more hazardous, thus equipment can take the load off a carer or family member.
- Products like grab bars, shower chairs and portable ramps allow individuals to manage more of their movements solo vs. relying upon someone else.
- Private moments like bathing and toileting can be done with a large degree of independence (even if transfers are assisted).
For adults with a mobility impairment where they still have control and use over their upper body, assistive technology offers even more freedom as those with the strength can sometimes manage their own transfers and operate vehicles modified for upper body only driving.
For individuals with less functional use of their upper or lower body, assistive technology is an excellent support to prevent injury in both the mobility impaired person and the caregiver during transfers.
Communication is key
Why communication about the mobility impairment is vital
Despite increasing levels of independence, your adult child may still need your support. Even the most independent among our community need to be checked in with every so often; we’ve all had moments where we’d keep things to ourselves rather than ask for help.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved one to find out how they’re going. It’s important to check in with the child to be sure their needs are being met and to collaborate with the OT and other members of the interdisciplinary team as needed.
Setting goals and achieving them together
Setting goals or having dreams is not the domain of solely able-bodied people. With anyone who is going through life with a disability, goal setting is a way to keep engaged in daily life, working towards a milestone that could represent a level of improved independence, or something unrelated to the disability such as securing a job.
More information about this topic:
You can find useful information about this topic across the web via the following excellent online resources:
- Caring for a disabled family member: The importance of succession planning – Parent To Parent
- Planning for the future: The concerns among older parents of adult children with intellectual disabilities – McMaster Optimal Aging Portal
- Ways To Provide For Your Disabled Adult Child’s Future – Forbes.com
Learn more about Showerbuddy’s range of mobility products
Showerbuddy provides solutions for mobility-impaired children. Head over to our petite range page to explore our purpose-built shower chairs. Adaptable options for children of any age.
Tips for new parents of disabled children
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