Parents and caregivers of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs) strive to support their loved one in every possible way. The supporting care varies depending on the type and severity of the disability, as well as the physical and developmental age of the person being cared for, of course. However, one universal aspect is the importance of promoting independence in people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The extent to which this is possible obviously varies on an individual basis, too. But everyone can and should experience the confidence that comes with independence and enjoy their right to self-determination. It is therefore the responsibility of parents and caregivers to encourage independence whenever and wherever possible.
Below are some pointers on promoting independence in people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. If your child (or someone in your charge) has an IDD, remember that supporting them often means letting them do for themselves.
Encouraging Independence in People with IDDs
- Resist the urge to manage every decisions and situations, and remind yourself that you’re there for support—not control.
- Enlist caregiving help from family, friends, and/or professionals. This helps you let go of trying to do everything, which in turn helps you shift from controlling to supporting.
- Be patient and maintain a positive attitude about what’s possible. Celebrate even the small successes along the path to greater independence.
- Recognize when you’ve moved beyond “protective” to “over-protective.” There’s a big difference between keeping someone safe and keeping them from ever making a mistake. Challenges and setbacks are part of life—and learning opportunities—for everyone, even those with IDDs.
- Learn from mistakes and setbacks, but don’t dwell on them. Talk optimistically about what can be done differently next time. Adapt.
- Ask what they would like to do, rather than tell them what they’re going to do. Offer choices and respect the decisions.
- Start slowly, by encouraging simple decisions about daily life.
- A big part of promoting independence in people with intellectual or developmental disabilities is ensuring that they have ample opportunity for learning, enrichment, employment, and/or volunteering as appropriate.
- Provide instruction in the basic life skills necessary for independence (yourself, and/or through educational programs).
- Assign children or adults with IDDs appropriate household chores.
- Provide a nutritious diet and plenty of physical activity to promote a healthy weight and energy, which help maintain the motivation and ability to achieve greater independence.
- Allow independent trips out of the home if/as appropriate for their age and developmental age.
- Encourage participation in social activities and school and community events as often as possible. Facilitate participation in appropriate team sports.