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The Power Of Empowering

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
11/09/20  9:24 AM PST

You can set your clock by my son, Alex. Promptly at 11 am every day, the earliest allowed lunch time in our home, he emerges from his bedroom and makes his way to the kitchen to make his lunch. Alex is 18 and he loves making (and eating) his own food. He knows how to use the stovetop and is learning about other areas of food prep, but the one thing that often stymies him is opening packages. 

When I’m in a hurry, I’ve been known to do it for him. It being opening packages and just about anything else that his small motor skills make difficult. Alex has Down syndrome, and some of those tasks still challenge him. From the time his first Occupational Therapist came to see him with Early Intervention Services, I learned that doing for him is a big no-no, empowering him to do for himself is always the goal. I still fudge from time to time, but that lesson has stuck with me.

Almost a year ago I started working as a Parent Support Partner for our local Community Mental Health, a position in which I work with other parents whose children receive mental health services. In order to do this work, I started by taking a certification course with my state. When I walked into the first class, I admit I was starry-eyed, hoping to help my fellow travelers on this path. Instead, what I’ve learned is that, much like with my son, my job is to support, not to help. In fact, as we made our way through the learning materials class participants were often corrected when stating we wanted to “help” the parents we were supporting, and instead asked to “empower”. And in the meantime, I’ve realized how right this approach is, it’s all I’ve ever wanted from others.

What’s the difference? In a nutshell, the difference is who achieves success. 

With Alex, if I take the package from him and quickly open it, the mission is accomplished, and he gets his lunch, but it doesn’t move him any further on his path to independence. And with supporting parents facing unusual or challenging circumstances raising their kids, if I use my experience to solve their problem, then I have achieved success on their behalf, but the win is for me, not them. Furthermore, when they face more challenges down the road, they won’t have the skillbuilding experience nor the confidence of the win in their pocket as they prepare to meet them.

In other words, when I help someone instead of empowering them to use their own voice, I’m robbing them of the opportunity to grow as a person and experience their own achievements. Instead, if I can use my experience to impart wisdom and encouragement that another person can use to solve their own problems and use their own voice, then we all benefit from the experience. And when others grant me the same, I benefit as well.

Alex isn’t great at opening packages, but his scissor skills are superb. All he needs to open the package is to have scissors nearby, and the memory of past success of using the scissors to do the work. When he gets frustrated, I help him best not by doing for him, but by reminding him of what he needs to be successful. I have known that for a long time, and now I know that is all almost anyone needs is to be empowered.

inclusion on the playground
Alethea Mshar is a Special Needs Mom and Blogger.
Read her blog, Ben’s Writing, Running Mom
Follow her on Facebook


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