Our son Isaac has Down syndrome and our farm belongs to him as much as it belongs to anyone in our family. All the chores, the sores, and rewards are just as much his to share and take pride in as it is any of ours.
As Special Needs parents, one of the things we try to do is spread awareness and be an advocate for our son. Part of that means, we give a great deal of attention to equipping him with every advantage and resource he needs to overcome the unique challenges he faces. But, truly, it is more than that.
What we’re also spreading awareness of, and trying to advocate for, is not just our son’s special needs, but just as importantly his special gifting. In other words, our attention as Special Needs Parents isn’t just on our sons’ disability as much as it’s on his abilities.
Our son’s identity as a person consists of a lot more than his Down syndrome. Yes, his Down syndrome is part of it. But, I can tell you, he’s definitely his own character, and has his own personality, and his own interests, and is discovering his own niche in the world.
That’s what we want to see. Whether it’s at church, school, outside activities, or, Lord willing, one day in some kind of work context, we want Isaac to enjoy the same experiences and to have some of the same opportunities as his siblings will get to have.
But before we expect to see that level of inclusion for him outside the home, we want to see it happening in and around the home first. Before any child can become a valued and contributing member of society, guess what, they’ve got to first learn to become a valued and contributing member of the family.
In my opinion, the home is the training ground, designed by God, to lay the foundations of character and general life skills that are needed to prepare one for the real world. The foundation of a child’s education isn’t reading, writing, and arithmetic, as important as those things are. The foundation of a child’s education is the formation of good habits and a strong character that prepares them for those other subjects of learning.
I appreciate the following quotes by Charlotte Mason who was a respected educator in the 1800’s who had a lot to say on this subject:
“The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.”
Charlotte Mason, "Home Education"
“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.”
Charlotte Mason, "The Original Home School Series"
In other words, a really good solution to avoid having to handhold and spoon-feed your kids as they grow into adulthood is to teach them to be independent and self-managing in their own established routines.
We’ve found as a family that one of the best places to teach our kids (including Isaac) the kind of daily habits and routines that foster independence is on a farm. If you think about it, what better environment is there to establish routines than on a farm, with all its chores, and planting schedules, and milking times, and putting up the animals before nightfall, and all the rest. Farm-life is a great catalyst for teaching daily responsibility.
I once heard Bob Doman, the Director of the National Association of Childhood Development (NACD), an organization that helps out a lot of Special Needs families, say:
“In general…the more [chores a child has] the better. If I had my druthers I’d try to raise every child on a farm or a ranch where there are lots and lots of chores to be done…The job we have as parents is to raise our children so they are happy, successful adults…When you give your child chores, you’re giving them responsibility…I see kids, as they get more and more chores, become more and more mature, more self-confident, [and more capable]. Chores are wonderful. I would encourage parents to structure and schedule as many chores as possible.”
- NACD Video, "Should My Child Do Chores?"
I also like what Dennis McGuire, who has done great work for the Adult Down Syndrome Center in Chicago, has said speaking on the importance of habits and routines, or what he simply described in one of his articles as established “grooves.”
“There are numerous advantages to grooves. They give an important sense of order and structure to peoples’ lives. They also help persons, who process things more slowly in a fast-moving world, have some control over their lives. Routines help to organize and manage daily living tasks which increase independence. Once an activity is learned and becomes part of a daily routine, there is rarely a need for “prompting” or supervision from others. The ability to follow routines at set times each day can be of great benefit.”
Dennis McGuire, "The Groove"
Special Needs or not, learning to live with a sense of structure and order can make all the difference in a person’s development. In the case of our son Isaac, we’re seeing that ring true.
Along side his brother and sister, Isaac helps out with the animals, he helps in the garden, he helps stack wood, he helps check for eggs, he helps dig posts, and set the table, and fold laundry and put away the dishes, and on we could go. In all these examples, and many more we could mention, he is learning independence.
Of course, our kids do have plenty of time to play as well. Playing is just as important a part of development as chores are. But don’t underestimate the benefit of consistent, daily responsibility. For us, that’s out on a farm, but whatever your context, include your child and teach them to be more independent.