Follow the Child
Adapted with permission from
Strengthening Relationships When Our Children Have Special Needs,
by Nicholas Martin (Future Horizons, 2004)

One of the most striking things I have learned from parents raising children with disabilities is that there is at least one fundamental difference between raising “normal” children and raising those who are not. Our society and culture, our institutions and conveniences – all the things we are surrounded by – are geared towards normalcy. And our society has a fairly standardized and accepted approach to parenting (whether good or bad) in which children are expected to follow the pathways set out by their parents. These expectations may be set directly, according to what the parents say or do, or they may be set indirectly, through the governments, school administrators, and other officials that parents elect. But when children are atypical, the parents must follow the child! The less the child conforms to standard patterns, the more challenging it may be for the parents, because each child is unique and will often require “learning as we go.”

Thus we hear stories such as “Thomas the Tank Engine” becoming the focus of the family, if only because it is the one thing that captures Danny’s imagination and draws him out into joyous expression and contact with the outside world. We hear of a couple that never had a full night’s rest until they started running a fan in Tony’s room, which almost magically helped him sleep through the night for the very first time. For another, it was dancing with their baby to “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” that quieted the midnight tantrums that otherwise seemed to have no end.

One mother shared these thoughts with me:

My older son, who is 10, takes a considerable interest in Disney movies, especially “Toy Story.” For weeks on end, he would recite the movie from beginning to end. He’d know all the characters, so of course, Mom (me) had to learn them, too. What I did was watch the movie once by myself and compiled some of the sayings from each character. I can remember one time in particular; he was lying in the middle of the mall kicking, screaming, crying - the whole nine yards - just because he could not get something he wanted. So, just out of the blue I said, “Let’s go to Pizza Planet,” a saying that Andy used with his mom in the Toy Story movie. It was lunch time anyway, and that’s what I was trying to do - get him to come with me to get some lunch. He stopped immediately, and replied, “To infinity and beyond! Pizza Planet, here we come!!!”

It is so true that you can't use the same techniques on kids with disabilities as you can with normal kids. To a disabled kid, if they can't find a particular toy, trust me, the whole world STOPS until it is found!!! Your normal kid would just make another choice.

In so many categories of disabilities, the parents will be placed in a similar position of having to learn from the child. They won’t have the luxury of being able to just raise their children the way they were raised, nor to expect their children to simply do as we do, listen to what we say, and be like everyone else. Instead, they will have to be inventive, resourceful, and creative, and let the child be their guide and teacher. One parent phrased it this way:

I think most of us who have children with disabilities are constantly trying to find ways for our children to fit into what society says they should be. But for me, when I quit trying to mold Brandon into what I thought society expected of him and what I wanted him to be, well, it was amazing how easy parenting became.

Return to Publications 

| About Us | School Services | Parent Training | Programs in Spanish |
| Facilitation | Publications | Videos | Contact Information | Home |

© The Center for Accord 2023. All rights reserved.
(817) 371-4448 • send an email