By Kristen Birkmeier, MSPT
I am using the term learned helplessness to refer to those children who did not need to, but end up totally dependent on others for all their daily physical needs. In the practice of pediatric therapy, therapists treat some children who are so physically involved that their ability to perform or participate in daily activities will always be extremely limited. There are others who have the potential to function with some independence even though they may require assistance for some activities. Many children can become quite functional and independent despite their physical involvement.
Pediatric therapists have all met some children in their practice who may have been able to function at a higher level, but for various reasons, they do not achieve functional independence. Sometimes this is a result of caregivers who do not know how to set expectations for their children with special needs. Often times it is difficult for parents to imagine how their child can assist with and participate in simple daily activities. They cannot envision how their child could help when being dressed, fed, moved from one position to another, reaching for objects presented in play, or communicating their wants, needs or desires.
In these cases, parents essentially provide for the child’s every need, and do not know how to place expectations for their children to participate and move towards functional independence during daily activities. Pediatric therapists play a very important role in helping parents learn to raise the bar for their children in regard to setting functional goals that lead to independence and self-sufficiency, and helping them to develop the skills needed to teach their child how to more actively engage and participate in daily activities.
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