Issue #22 – Discipline: A Mom’s Perspective

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Discipline: A Mom’s Perspective

Sarah Sander

I know, I know… It’s no longer politically correct to use the term ‘discipline’ when relating to individuals with special needs. Truthfully, the previous informative essays and articles in this feature, leading up to mine, all reaffirm that – our children with special needs will act out inappropriately when they are misunderstood and when they cannot communicate their needs, proving that mis-communication, rather than misbehavior is the source of challenge.

Just the other evening we had an enlightening moment to bring that reality home. It was just a few days after Shavuous and we were sitting at the dinner table when Moishey announced that he wanted us to help him find one of the Chanukah music cds we always enjoy during that festive season. As if on cue, all our eyes met and we started smirking to each other. It’s June and Moishey wants a Chanukah cd. My husband jovially asked him why he wants it ‘davka’ now and to our astonishment and shame, Moishey answered, “Because it’s Parshas Bahaloschu this week, in which we learn about the Menorah in the Mishkan. Therefore, I want to hear songs about Chanukah and the menorah.” A powerful lesson in avoiding jumping to conclusions and really listening to what our special kids are saying.

But, I do want to humbly point out instances when discipline is, in fact, in order, even if some liberal educators and social workers have recently decided that it is too harsh a word to throw around when dealing with meek individuals. I am humbly gratified that there are many wonderful books on chinuch written by erlicha master mechanchim, who laud discipline and even use the word in the titles of their books.

For starters, my son with Down syndrome is not meek, nor weak. He is a strong-minded ‘chevra-man’ and much like typical children who will oft behave delinquently to get what they want, so too will my son. He is verbal B’H and can communicate his needs and wants. He is moderately intelligent and can understand boundaries and limitations. Yet, he keeps on testing and testing and never giving up. Talk about consistency! We thought consistency is something adult educators and caregivers need to constantly fall back on – but how about fighting consistency with consistency?!?

I will share some personal anecdotes.

The menfolk in my family are Kohanim and they ‘deechen’ on Yom Tov. Moishey deechens beautifully and enjoys being asked ahead of time by specific individuals to have them in mind when he blesses Klal Yisroel. He also basks in the boisterous ‘Yasher Koyachs’ he receives upon completion of this holy privilege.

Prior to stepping up to the Aron Kodesh for the Priestly Blessing, Moishey removes his shoes, then his hat, and then gets under a tallis and does his thing.

Recently, Moishey placed his hat on the floor before ascending to the Aron Kodesh. When he completed the holy ritual and stepped down together with my husband and second son, he pointed to his hat on the floor and asked my husband to pick it up for him. Why? Why not?! Ever heard of laziness? Ever heard of the yetzer hora? Ever heard of disrespect? At that moment, Moishey experienced all three rolled into one. My husband looked him in the eye and said, “Moishey, I will not bend down and pick up your hat. Please do it yourself.” And he did. A gentleman was observing the exchange and he lauded my husband saying, “Wow! I can’t get over you! Such strength! To be so firm when dealing with such a child….I admire you greatly.” My husband explained to the gentleman that this was not deserving of big accolades. Moishey needs to be ‘disciplined’ in much the same way any other child does. This was clearly not a matter of communication challenge; it was merely a smart-alec young adult with an intellectual disability who was trying to wheedle his way out of doing what he needed to do.

Which brings me to another anecdote and a plea to the public.

Moishey loves to shop for weekly publications and newspapers of almost every sort. In addition to reading some of them, he mostly loves to hoard them. He remembers exactly which ones he has, had, lent out, lost, missed purchasing etc. You don’t want to know what our basement looks like. Because we know that Moishey enjoys it so, we indulge him. However, the indulgence must have boundaries, otherwise we’d be finagled outta’ house and home. Moishey also loves to purchase seforim. Some he browses through, others he just wants to have. This need sometimes gets out of hand and we have to quash his requests. But Moishey is a wise-guy and he has come to the realization that he has the community around his little finger. So, without our permission, he occasionally goes into stores and ‘helps himself’ to items that we forbade him to buy. Shopkeepers have watched in despair as Moishey has non-stealthily made off with their merchandise, all the while not saying a word, because ‘nebach, he has Down syndrome’. Mister! The nebach is on you! Moishey is not a nebach because of his Down syndrome! He has the world at his fingertips and he even has you, Mr. Tongue-tied Shopkeeper, in his back pocket! Moishey is not a rachmanos. He has a happy, easy life B’H, with all his needs taken care of. Please do not allow him to manipulate you and steal from your store. Your standing by quietly, condones his behavior. You are telling him that it’s okay to steal. When he comes home, we will make him return the item/s to you, but by then it will be a struggle between him and us because you stood by and allowed him to take the stuff. If you would tell him firmly that he cannot take anything without paying, he would understand and refrain from repeating this.

There are many more anecdotes and examples, but I believe I have made my point. If it takes a village to raise a typical child, then it takes at least ‘ah gantza shtut’ to raise a child with special needs.

Please help us; don’t hinder us.