5 Tips for Parents Raising a Child With a Learning Disability
By The Watchman, Author Matt Langford
5 Tips for Parents Raising a Child With a Learning Difficulty. This is a great guest post from Matt Langford. His book, The Watchman, is about a young man with a learning disability. Matt knows about this subject well since he grew up with a brother that has a learning disability.
My experience growing up with my brother.
When I was 12 years old I performed an act of such pitiful unkindness its echoes deafen me to this very day. I was striding through the park with my school friends one sunny lunchtime in about 1990 when I saw my brother walking towards me. Free of the childhood strata that allows you unbridled love and pride for your family, it occurred to me that having a brother with a learning difficulty might afford me some embarrassment. So I ignored him and walked on, jumping like an enlightened puppy around my pre-pubescent chums. Unfazed by my wretched act my brother reacted in the only sensible way – he wrenched himself free from his carer, ran up to me and my gang, picked out the coolest, toughest guy (Simon … what a legend) and gave him a big hug and a kiss on the lips. We all stared, open mouthed, at the audacity of it. We were cool, don’t forget. My brother laughed, blew me a raspberry, grabbed his balls and sauntered back to his carer and the promise of an ice cream.
Like all our minor battles, my brother won with a class and dignity you and I will never achieve. His joy and amusement at life boiled down to a few minor yet ultimately precious strategies put to such breathtaking effect by my extraordinary parents. The fact that I had no idea there was a problem within my family until that sunny day in the park is testament to mum and dad’s ridiculously fabulous parenting. They were able to deploy several methods of true wonder which coloured in what must have been an incredibly difficult life for them both. Here are just a few of those strategies which I feel may help other parents who have the fortune to find themselves with a child in possession of a learning difficulty. It won’t be easy, but just remember this – no one else can do what you’re doing.
5 Tips for Parents Raising a Child With a Learning Disability
1. Be yourselves – make life as normal as possible for yourself and your kids. Go to the beach and the zoo. Argue about money and housework. When walking in the woods, hold hands and giggle at fart jokes. Tell your child they’re being a plum when they are, indeed, displaying plummish behaviour (because they will; there’s no getting away from it – sometimes these people, disability or not, can be utter jerks). Ultimately, by being yourselves, your children will appreciate you and trust you. And, apart from anything else, you’ll feel like you’re raising a family and not performing a task.
2. Have a break – Don’t be afraid of respite care. Give yourselves and your child a break from one another. If the service exists, use it. Spending 21 relentless years under the same roof will inevitably lead to axes through doors and you speaking in tongues. You’ll irritate the hell out of one another. Deal with it. This is a family afterall. Send them off for a couple of nights and invite your friends round for food, drink and dancing to Deacon Blue at 2am.
3. Don’t isolate yourselves – Join groups. Volunteer for stuff. Do sports. Ensure you and your partner get out at least once a month and pretend to be 19 again. Getting up at 6am every morning and helping an adolescent get washed and dressed is rubbish. But only you can do it. No one else. Ensure you apportion some reckless time – give yourself over to silliness and involve other people in this practice. Your child will thank you for it.
4. Fight for everything – Services, help and money. Sadly, there will be no miraculous knock at the door from a man with a briefcase offering you an array of magic beans. It’s not ideal. You’ve got enough to deal with. But that’s the life you’ve been handed – the more you fight and the more of a nuisance you make of yourself, the more you’ll get. If you don’t then you’ll struggle. My mum and dad fought for 3 years to get motability benefit. They jumped through every hoop and even suffered the indignity of parading my brother in front of a board of suits in order to prove just how disabled he was. It was rubbish – but we got the car!
5. Enjoy your child – the thing that made our family life so enjoyable was the fact that my parents brought out the best of my brother’s personality. He was always happy. He always laughed. If your child is happy then you will be happy. The reason he gave cool Simon a hug and kiss in the park is because he thought it would be fun (but then again, he believed that making my life hell was a noble, fun-packed pursuit. See chapter 7 of The Watchman if you don’t believe me). If it’d been me in his shoes I would’ve chinned me. But, as I said before, he possessed infinitely more class than I do. So enjoy your child. Play with them. Make them laugh. Let them amuse you. For all the hardship you will endure, you will receive joy beyond words. No one else can do it. Only you.
Since deciding some years ago that writing would be a fruitless, difficult career path, and that I should really devote my time to something more sensible (say, accountancy or nursing), I have written several books and dozens of short stories and essentially given myself over to the typewriter at the expense of my hair, my looks and my physique. Demotivation seems to be key here.
The problem seems to be, however, that once I write a book a magic unicorn named Bob comes along to edit, rewrite and tidy up my work. Bob has been absent. With this in mind I have spent the last year editing, tidying and rewriting a dozen of my shorts and a couple of my novels.
About The Watchman :
The Watchman is a fictional novel told through the eyes of Adam, a young man with a learning disability, as he matures into adulthood and attempts to make sense of the disintegration of his family.
Set at the end of the eighties we follow the Olsen’s through their upheavals as they begin the final stretch of their family years. We begin as the family move into rural Devon and try to settle into country life. Adam is at first quietly content with his new life, new home and new dog. He makes interesting friends and enjoys his days at a nearby day centre. Adam’s love of his family and wonderfully endearing (if flawed) nature comes to the fore one Christmas. He terrorises and smothers his long suffering Gran in equal amounts, supplying her with acts of wonderful menace and heartbreaking love. We move onto a visit from a family friend who changes Adam’s view of those closest to him forever – he begins to realise how fundamental his differences really are, and that he may never make a ‘real’ friend.
The first cracks begin to appear, however, when he realises that his two younger siblings, Jake and Joss, are growing up and spending more time away from the family. It is also apparent that his father, Pete, who although clearly well meaning yet largely absent from Adam’s life, is on the verge of leaving the home. Adam finds this situation impossible to understand – why do families break up? Why do people hurt one another? And, crucially, why do people have to change? He can’t understand how his closest family, this foundation of his existence, won’t stay with him when, crucially, he never realised there was any other option.
As time goes on Adam’s behaviour deteriorates, culminating in a violent attack on his mother – the absolute centre of his world. He realises his mistake and makes a pact with himself never to hurt those around him ever again. Sadly, it is too late for him, and his worst nightmare is realised – the family as he knows it is split and gone forever.
The book is based upon my own childhood experience of growing up with a brother with a severe learning difficulty. Although all the characters in The Watchman are fictitious, most of the events are based upon real anecdotes and encounters from our teenage years. He never articulated a feeling or a need. Everything he communicated required a noise or a physical act. I cannot begin to comprehend the hardships he must’ve endured in life – not being able to make himself understood or be able to make sense of the world occurring around him. So this novel is an attempt to see the world through his eyes. I doubt I have captured even a degree of his real frustrations or bewilderment, but I hope it will allow the reader to go partway into the mind of someone who, essentially, just loved his family.
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