why i like to give my son opportunities for failure

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Last week I wrote a post in which I talked a little bit about how I like to give Archie (my ten year old with Down syndrome who we adopted from Bulgaria at age seven) opportunities to fail. I got several responses from people who were concerned with my love for a good failure. Some insinuated that was cruel and unnecessary. So I thought I would go into a little more detail about what I mean.

One commenter asked, "You 'love' giving him opportunities to fail? Doesn't life do that?" Of course, life gives every single person in the world chances to make poor choices. That's not the point. Down syndrome or not, life gives us all plenty of chances for failure daily. As Archie's mother, it is my responsibility to give him opportunities for small failures. The thing is, if he isn't allowed minor failures today, then there is a much greater chance of him making catastrophic mistakes later in life. So yes, when I see an opportunity for him to potentially make a bad decision (that won't be harmful to himself or anyone else), I jump on it, step back, and let him learn.

His first Christmas home, we were walking through Urban Outfitters and he came across a lovely display of shiny, very breakable ornaments. His eyes lit up and he walked up to the ornaments and stuck his chubby little hand out to grab one. I KNEW what was about to happen. If I wanted to take the easy, less stressful way out, I would have grabbed that ornament out of his hand and told him not to touch them. But I just watched him dangle it in front of his eyes. His fingers separated and it was like slow motion watching that thing fall to the concrete floor and break.

To be clear, this was not Archie's first time in a store. And he had been told many times before not to touch things in stores, and especially not to drop things on the ground. HE KNEW. Would it have been fair for me to let him do that if I thought he didn't know any better? No. But, regardless of how helpless that boy can make someone think he is....he knew exactly what he was doing.

Luckily, the ornament did not smash into a bunch of pieces and I was able to pick up the few chunks and we went and stood in line to pay for it. I was also fortunate that my mom and sister were there with us, so I was able to whisk Archie home for a time out and leave Ace with them. A little while later Archie and I went back up to that store. He walked in with his hands behind his back and kept them there as we slowly strolled past the ornaments. And to this day, he remembers that incident and does not grab and break things in stores.

In my last post, I told a story about Archie losing cake privileges at a birthday party for attempting to blow out the kid's candles. And another commenter asked if I should have given Archie some sort of verbal cue when he was faced with a situation in which another mom was trying to get him cake. No! Most definitely not. Again, Archie knew what to do in that moment. Yes, he looked at me with a "is this a test?" face, and I could have absolutely said, "no, Archie, remember you aren't allowed any cake today." Of course I could do that. That would be EASY. But here's the thing- our goal for Archie is independence. And I am not going to be there holding his hand throughout every step of his life to say, "No, Archie, remember, we don't (fill in the blank)." He has got to learn to control his impulsiveness and make good decisions without me there to remind him.

This video shows one of my most proud mama moments. Ace and Archie had a choir performance at church. During rehearsal, Archie could not help himself from messing with the bright lights shining up from the floor. He kept reaching down and grabbing them, and earned himself several timeouts in the pew with me. I was certain come show time, those lights would catch his eye and he would be right down there on the floor with no concern of what was going on around him. But a miracle happened. Around 1:15 in the video, you will see his eyes find the lights. Then he grabs Ace's shoulder as if to say, "don't let me do it, sis." Then he signs "good boy" as a reminder to himself. He wants so badly to jump down and mess with those lights but he doesn't. He is fixated on them for the remainder of the performance, but he controlled himself. And he was so proud. And his dad and I were SO proud.

If I wanted to eliminate stress, and ensure that Archie could not screw up during the actual performance in front of a packed chapel, I could have had his teacher move him away from the lights. But then he wouldn't have had the opportunity for that great SUCCESS. And that smile and laughter in the end is him being so excited that he did the right thing. That is a major win.

So when I say I love to give Archie opportunities for failure, it is not because I am being mean or cruel. It is because I love him and I owe him that. I owe him the greatest chance at independence. I owe it to him not to take the easy way out on things, but to go through the struggles, and fights, and failures with him so that he can learn.

Lots of Love!

no, actually, it's not okay for my son to lick you

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Over the last three years I have been really trying to learn and figure out how to properly navigate this world of having a child with Down syndrome. I am a major work in progress as a mom to all three of my children, not just Archie, but he obviously adds some unique aspects to motherhood. The one part I am still trying to figure out how to handle with tact, grace, and patience is other people's reactions to my son. It is such a huge spectrum.

One that I encounter often is the "Archie should get away with things and get special treatment because he has Down syndrome" philosophy. The idea that since he has a "disability", all the rules don't apply to him. This thought process is problematic on so many levels and will only hold Archie back from being an independent person with socially acceptable behaviors.

Recently we were at a birthday party and as it got to be time for cake, Archie insisted on standing right next to the birthday boy. Here's the thing: Archie has an obsession with blowing out candles. It's one of the most difficult things for him to control. His impulsivity kicks into high gear and most times he just loses it. So as he begged me to stand next to the birthday boy, I explained to him very clearly, "you DO NOT blow out the candles. If you blow out the candles, you will not get any cake." He knew the drill. He excitedly exclaimed, "yes, mommy, I know. I won't!" And I know that he wanted that to be true. It was a really long shot, but I took a couple steps back and was prepared to give him the opportunity for a huge moment of success, or a major failure. And as the lights went out, and the cake approached, with those bright flickering candles, I saw the wheels in his head begin to spin out of control. He sang "Happy Birthday" in his loudest Archie voice, and before the final "happy birthday to you" could get out, he lunged forward and blew with all of his might before the kid even had a chance to make a wish. (Fortunately his aim is pitiful so not too much damage was done.)

I quickly escorted him to the other side of the room and calmly explained that he would not be getting a piece of that delicious chocolate cake. (One of his favorite things in the world). I wasn't mad at him. I wasn't upset that he failed. In fact, I was quite happy. I love giving him opportunities to fail and I give them to him often. Those failures, and the consequences that follow, are exactly how he learns. He cried and begged and threw a fit. People looked on awkwardly. One mom in particular stood close by and observed. After I was finished talking to, and hugging on Archie, the mom looked down at him and quietly asked him, "would you like a piece of cake?" I was shocked. So was Archie. He looked at me like "is this a test?" I looked at him with wide eyes like "yes it is, do the right thing..." Then he looked at her and through sniffles and tears said, "yes, please." (FAIL AGAIN!) She reached her hand out to him to take him to go get a piece and he started to move towards her. In my head I was all, "what the??" But I politely said to this mother who I had never seen before in my life, "actually Archie here was told that he wouldn't be allowed any cake if he tried to blow out the candles and unfortunately, he did. So we will have to skip the cake this time." She made a frowny face and gave an audible "awwwww". Seriously, lady?

The thing is, I can say with great certainty that if Archie had been a typical child, she would not have even looked twice. In fact she may have even thought, "too bad, punk." But because Archie has Down syndrome, in her mind he needed to be let off the hook. Um, no.

His Down syndrome is a major part of who he is, but it's not a golden ticket for him to go around doing whatever the heck he feels in the moment.

Here are some examples of things that Down syndrome does not give my son an excuse to do:
Spank your butt
Grab your boobs
Lick you
Pinch you
Blow out someone else's birthday candles
Eat food off of someone else's plate
Drink the rest of someone else's juice box
Drop things on the ground to see if they will break
Push your kid down
Cut in line

The problem is, when any of the above mentioned incidents occur, and I correct Archie, most people's reaction is, "Oh it's okay....no problem....he's fine...." Actually no. It's NOT okay for my son to lick you. It IS a problem if he spanks your butt. And it's NOT fine for him to cut in the line just because he's got an extra chromosome.

I completely understand these reactions from people. They mean well, and are really just trying to make me comfortable and make sure I know that they aren't bothered by Archie's antics. And while I appreciate that (and I really do), allowing him to act like anything less than the ten year old boy that he is, is not doing him any favors.

Lots of Love!