As many as 200 million people in the world currently have intellectual disabilities, with the majority living with mild intellectual disabilities. This means they simply need a little more time to learn new information or skills. With the right support, most will be able to live independently and confidently as adults. As parents, you can empower them to achieve their full potential.
Here are some ways you can support your child with an intellectual or learning disability:
1. Educate Yourself
You can be a better advocate by educating yourself about your child’s intellectual or learning disability. Researching, consulting with specialists and maintaining a list of things that your child might be struggling with is a great start. Once you’re aware of their challenges, you can come up with solutions to support them in their growth. Keep up to date with your child’s progress and keep educating yourself about further steps.
Take the example of Joan Iven Jamora-Abello, whose son Joachim has autism and ADHD. He didn’t speak until age 3 and struggled to follow instructions or develop social skills. Joan equipped herself with knowledge by pursuing a Masters in Special Education. Joachim became the subject of her thesis. As part of her internship, she worked at an Integrated School, for children with and without disabilities where Joachim was enrolled. He started behavioural therapy, special education classes, as well as a Special Olympics Young Athletes sport and play program to improve his motor, cognitive and social skills. Joan’s unwavering support helped Joachim find his confidence, and allowed him to develop his talent in sports, music, and the arts.
2. Encourage their independence
Let your child try new things and encourage them to complete tasks by themselves. Provide guidance when it’s needed and give positive feedback when your child does something well or masters something new. Expose them to new experiences and social circles. Give them the confidence to fight and conquer their own battles.
One such parent is Tehmina Azim whose son Asim was diagnosed with autism at the age of 5. He had speech and learning issues. Tehmina exposed Asim to sports at an early age. When he was 8, he travelled without his family, with his athletics team to his first Special Olympics competition in Lahore, where he won his first medal. At 14, she exposed him to a new sport – swimming. He was afraid to get into the pool at first, but his coach convinced her to let go. Today, Asim is a gold medalist, having represented Pakistan in swimming at the Special Olympics World Games. Tehmina’s advice to all parents of children with disabilities is not to hide them. She says, “Come out of your bubble, and receive support.”
3. Involve them in group activities
Enrolling them in art classes, athletic activities and social groups will help your child with intellectual disabilities build their social skills, confidence and advance in core developmental milestones. They learn how to play with others and develop important skills for learning. They can also learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills will help them in family, community and school activities.
Fahsai Saejang was born with Down Syndrome and a hole in her heart. When she was 4, her parents enrolled her in Special Olympics Young Athletes, a sport and play program for children of all abilities at her school. She was encouraged to play games, and make friends with other children. She was shy before but eventually came out of her shell. She’s learnt to follow instructions and is now able to help her parents with chores. The physical activities have also made her stronger, and she is no longer on medication for her heart defect.
Families are the number one fans of Special Olympics athletes worldwide. You give the type of love, support and encouragement that no one else can. Being a role model and source of strength for your children helps them with their growth. Find out how you can be a part of the family support network here.