What Parents of a Child with a Disability Should Know (From Someone Who Knows)

Destination Independence: Stops include reasonable risks, self-advocacy, education, exploration, belief, hard work, self- worth

My name is Neelam.  I was born with spina bifida, a physical disability, and diagnosed with a learning disability in the fourth grade. I was very lucky that as I was growing up my parents believed that education was a necessary, basic human right for everyone. My parents believed that if I got an education I would have better employment opportunities and a chance to lead an independent and fulfilling life. Because my parents’ beliefs instilled in me a belief in my abilities, today I am a graduate student pursuing my Master’s degree in Social Work. My parents’ beliefs and expectations have encouraged and shaped me into a young contributing and productive woman.

Here is how my parents encouraged and supported me:

  • Allowed me to take reasonable risks, i.e.,
    • Independently travel to and attend doctor’s appointments
    • Contact my health providers to make appointments and address health concerns
  • Allowed me to advocate for myself in school, i.e.
  • Have an active role in my IEP meetings and when requesting accommodations to succeed academically
  • Identify needs and gaps to receive necessary transportation
    • From birth instilled and encouraged the value of education and gainful employment
    • Communicated to me about my need for independence instead of depending on them or the government
  • Believed in me and encouraged my strengths and capacities
  • Treated me like my older, able-bodied brother and provided me the same opportunity to attend college as my brother
  • Instilled in me a sense of self-worth and self-respect by including me in family life, and by encouraging me to voice my opinions and validating my feelings
  • Allowed me to explore and hold volunteer jobs while in I was in high school, which later resulted in employment
  • Most important of all, since infancy my parents taught me the value of hard work, self-sufficiency, self-advocacy, and education

Keep in mind that while everyone has challenges, no one is helpless. Resilience and strength are bred in all people regardless of ability.  I shared my parents’ vision to show the power of faith and expectations. Resources, programs, and laws help people with disabilities achieve their highest potential. However, the belief and encouragement to work and live an integrated community life must begin at home.

As a parent you must believe in your child and have high expectations, so your child can have a productive life. The parental expectation come first, and then success follows. If support, encouragement, and opportunities to self-advocate are lacking at home, then resources and programs will not be enough. Love and protection are parental roles. Providing love and protection,  along with high expectations and encouragement to reach potential, is necessary for all kids, both with and without disabilities.

About the Author

Photo of Neelam Dhadankar
Neelam Dhadankar

Neelam is graduate student at the University of WI-Madison and an intern at the Department of Health Services (DHS) where I’m part of an Employment Initiatives team.
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