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How to Nurture the Potential of Children with Special Needs

Posted on May 13, 2019 by Ann

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As caregivers or friends, we can help a child with special needs achieve his or her potential. Here are some suggestions on how to start.

1. Identify and accept the challenges.

A parent once shared with me her remorse at not getting her child diagnosed earlier. “If only I knew what she was going through,” she said tearing up. “I would not have been so harsh about her behaviour and placed such unrealistic expectations on her.”

At All In, we constantly stress the importance of early detection. This is because only then can we truly understand what the child is going through and whether the burden of expectations we put on the child is realistic. At the same time, only by understanding the situation can we look for ways to improve it for the child. Escapism will not help with nurturing the child.

2. Identify areas of interests and strengths.

Sometimes we focus so much on our child’s challenges we miss his or her strengths. Knowing what they are and growing those strengths is an important part to nurturing his or her full potential and developing his or her self-esteem.

To figure out what your child’s strengths are, you can expose your child to as many different types of activities as is practicable and see what holds his or her interests, and what he or she does well in.

For a systematic approach, you can also make use of online assessment tools. Here are two assessment tools that may be useful:

There may be pockets of strengths that are common to certain special needs. Here is a video outlining common generalised strengths in individuals with learning disabilities (LD), Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), Asperger’s Syndrome, Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Most of all, communicate with your child. He or she can tell you so much that you need to know.

3. Get professional help and guidance.

Other parents have also shared with me the relief they felt when they finally got the right professional help they need for their child.

Sometimes, we struggle on our own, when the struggle may not be necessary! Just the right advice and support can make all the difference!

This includes selecting the right schools and centres for your child.

4. Provide opportunities for the child to do his or her best and be part of the community

Where possible, look for opportunities for the child to do his or her best, especially community activities. For example, you can look out for activities organised by the Residents’ Committees or Community Clubs near your home.

One activity that I’ve found particularly beneficial is Tzu Chi’s Recycling Day, which takes place every second Sunday of the month in close to 40 neighbourhoods across the island. On this day, volunteers, with the support of Residential Committees, transform void decks of HDB blocks, multi-purpose halls, communal pavilions etc into temporary recycling points. Everyone can pitch in to help with sorting recyclables and learn about environmental protection.

5. Set achievable goals that stretch the child’s abilities.

While providing your child with opportunities to do his or her best, you can also express the goals that you want him or her to achieve.

Temple Grandin wrote that, “A label can also impact parental expectations, a major source of therapeutic momentum for children. A parent with a diagnosed autistic child might be reluctant to teach practical social skills that are outside the child’s comfort zone, such as ordering food at a lunch counter. You have to stretch these kids just outside their comfort zone to help them develop. Give them choices of “stretching” activities such as you can do Boy Scouts or robotics.”

We don’t want to set impossibly high standards, but we don’t want to not have enough expectations for the kids. One way is to start small. Set easy goals at first, then gradually increase the difficulty, stretching your child’s ability each time.

6. Praise and celebrate every achievement.

Our children may have put in a great deal of effort just to carry out what comes easily to us. Respect, praise and celebrate every victory, no matter how small.

7. Allow the child to fail, and support and encourage the child when failure happens.

We all instinctively want to protect our children from the world, but the reality is that they cannot learn, improve or build their resilience without failure.

Teach them it is okay to fail. Tell yourself it is okay to let them fail.

We cannot protect them their whole lives, but for now, we can be there right now to support and encourage the child.

8. Provide feedback for improvement.

Children with special needs sometimes work a whole lot harder than others. Making it a point to give them constructive feedback will allow them to learn and grow more effectively.

9. Identify role models they can emulate.

Learning that there are famous individuals who had conquered their own disabilities and had blazed a trail can be a motivating experience for our children (see link below).

Role Models in Science and Mathematics Series: Ralph Braun

10. Harness the power of family and friends

Ralph Braun, the inventor of the vehicle wheelchair lift received a lot of support from his family. His father worked with him on his first invention, he learnt the mechanics from his uncles, and his cousin let him used his garage. The support he received made him the success he was.

Most importantly …

In all that you do, please do remember that you are first and foremost your child’s parent, not his or her trainer, coach or therapist.

Love your child, believe in your child and stay hopeful.

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” (Christopher Reeve)



All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.