Redefining Disability Week 4 – Where should the emphasis be: medical treatment, life skills, community integration or all three?

2 Feb 2015 Ruth L Snyder

Disability Treatment

This week we are asked to consider where the emphasis should be for people dealing with what I like to call special abilities. (You can read my thoughts about the term “disability” here.)

I preface my answer with a question of my own: What is the specific issue we are dealing with? Some people have a medical diagnosis, others have a psychological diagnosis, and others intentionally pursue no diagnosis at all. In my mind, the type of diagnosis may affect the emphasis or treatment. For some, the focus will need to be entirely on medical treatment due to the severity of the medical condition. For others, there is nothing the medical community can do, so the focus will be on life skills and perhaps community integration.

We focused heavily on medical treatment for the first few years. Our van racked up thousands of kilometers as we drove to Edmonton (a 2 1/2 hour trip one way) an average of twice a month and also attended speech therapy and physiotherapy appointments a half hour away. However, now we only need to go to a few check-ups every year and the focus has switched to teaching life skills and getting our children involved in our local community. Life skills started with very basic concepts like how to eat. It took one of our twins six months of hand-over-hand feeding before he was able to scoop his food into a spoon and feed himself. His brother struggled with sensitivity to textures and needed yogurt to help him learn to eat crunchy and lumpy food. It’s probably a good thing we couldn’t see into the future. Hours and hours of teaching resulted in progress, very slow progress,  but it has been steady. One of our boys still needs help pouring milk from a jug without spilling it. Another one still has toileting accidents both at home and at school. All our boys are all still learning to cut their own food. All three are able to dress themselves, but they need daily reminders to put on clean clothes. [I’m told this happens with “normal” kids too :)]

Integration into the community continues to be a challenge. Since we live in a small community, there are not many specialized services available. The boys were able to attend clubs when they were younger because their “differences” weren’t as obvious. Now that they are teenagers who only function at the level of 5-7 year-olds, they are not included in community groups without an adult present. After many years of attending summer camp as a family, we decided to send the boys independently. With a trip out to camp to sort out some initial problems, all three boys were able to last 5 out of 7 days. However, we were asked to pick them up early and informed we need to be prepared to attend with them if they come again. We also attempted to register a family team for community curling (two adults and two boys with special abilities). My husband attended the meeting, sharing very openly what our plans were, and no concerns were raised. However, later that week we received a phone call informing us our boys would not be able to play. Apparently there was a concern that our team wouldn’t be competitive enough.

We are grateful for several people who go the extra mile to make sure our boys experience some of the learning opportunities others take for granted. Each day is a new adventure – some discouraging and others amazing.

It’s your turn. How would you answer this week’s question?


Last year Rose Fischer started a Redefining Disability Challenge. This year she is continuing to invite people to join the challenge by blogging about a set of questions she developed. I’ve decided to join this challenge and most Mondays (or Tuesdays!) will be answering one of her questions.

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