The word ‘empowerment’ is very popular today, in self-help literature, on social medial, in film, and on television. The word connotates a sense of achievement, importance, and most of all individual self-fulfillment. Empowerment is all about self-determination, taking responsibility for oneself and one’s life. All too often, children with disabilities have, in the past, been assumed to have people guide them through life. That was the old way of seeing things. The new lens is that of self-empowerment, individuality, and independence. Centuries of the ‘ableist’ dialogue and discourse dominated medical and psychological literature, reports, and assessments. Parents of a child with a disability all too often were advised to be ‘careful’ with their child and watch them every single moment.
But, children learn from experience. Children need to grow and have a sense of their own self-discovery. This is true for all children. A child with a disability will experience certain challenges but then so do non-disabled children. In fact, it’s almost unheard of for any child not to have challenges and difficulties in life. This is where the parents of a child with a disability can provide their offspring with a positive and pro-active way of seeing life and themselves.
Without the empowerment philosophy, parents could become fearful and over-protective. There is no doubt that all parents want to protect and care for their children. But, a child with a disability has the same needs as their non-disabled peers. They need to fumble, make mistakes, find their own ways of doing things, and explore the world around them from their own perspective.
Empowerment in parenting is very much about respecting one’s child enough to let them go and find their own way of doing things, make their own friends, investigate the kinds of hobbies they wish to be involved with, and explore their sexuality as they come of age. No child with a disability should experience any less. One of the most important experiences is inclusive education. Children need to be educated together. Non-disabled kids need to understand the experience of having a disability, while kids with a disability need to be with their non-disabled peers and make a wide range of friends. The importance of this experience cannot be over-stated. Segregated education is not a positive, empowering experience for children with disabilities. It only ends up making them feel poorly about themselves, and subsequently developing a low sense of self-esteem and low self-confidence. Children learn from each other, and they learn from their experiences together.
There is no doubt that to have a disability in life can be a challenge. By that same principle, it is a challenge to parents who want to do the “right thing” for their child. There is no specific set of guidelines, or a set of rules and principles with which to move through the experience. But, the sense of personal empowerment needs to be instilled in children at a young age. This gives them the feeling that they can do that which they aspire irrespective of having a disability. The disability should not be the guiding factor, but rather the child’s innate abilities, interests and desires and of course, the things they hope for and dream about as they journey towards their future.
While there is no specific guideline, there is help available for parents of children with a disability in Canada. The good news in Canada is that support is available in the form of the The Child Disability Tax Credit. The benefit provides families with up to $224.58 per month for children under the age of eighteen. This benefit can certainly help families (especially low-income) to ease the difficulties of these financial challenges. Disability Credit Canada provides families. In the end, perhaps the best advice is empower and believe in your child. Provide as many possible outlets for them to succeed, be independent, and believe in themselves as they go forward in life.