Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Managing Expectations

Good Evening!

One day back in 1991 I found out that I was going to have a son.  At 21 years of age I thought about how I couldn't wait to teach my son how to catch a baseball, ride a bike, and all of the things that every little boy is taught to do.  

By the end of the year those expectations were replaced by much less encouraging ones. Suddenly we were wondering if our son would survive until his birth.  We were told that if he did survive he would likely have profound physical and mental disabilities.  He would likely never walk, never talk, never lead a normal life.  We had gone from expecting the very best to expecting the worse.

Throughout the years our expectations changed often.  Sometimes it depended on the doctor we were talking to, or the teacher, or the friend or relative.  There were doctors who felt he would never walk, but he did.  There were specialists who felt he would someday break away from autism and lead a fairly normal life, but of course he did not.  Every new medication brought the hope of more consistent behavior.  Every new therapist carried the hope for success and the fear of failure at the same time.

After some time we learned that managing expectations is a healthy aspect of living as a special needs family.  We learned that we couldn't expect Tyler to sit through a 5 course dinner at the Froo-Froo-Poo-Poo-Restaurante, but we could expect that he could last through a one hour meal at the local pizza place.  We couldn't expect him to ride on a school bus with 40 kids, but we could expect him to ride in a van with 4.  

To me expectation has to reside between capabilities and goals.  Both sides of the equation have to be given an equal amount of consideration.  If expectation rests directly on capability, all progression will stop.  Unfortunately (and unintentionally) this is exactly where we placed Tyler after he finished high school.  We expected him to continue to be who he was without placing additional expectations on him.  His growth stalled and we knew it was happening.

If expectations are placed too close to the goal, they may wind up being unobtainable in the end.  This can lead to frustration for both the special needs person and the caregivers.  The result could be a regression instead of progression.

When Tyler was placed in his new home environment he was observed closely so his capabilities would be understood first.  At that point the goals began to be set.  And the expectation placed on him was that he could take one step toward that goal.  He would simply be expected to take one step forward.  As a result, Tyler continually feels a sense of accomplishment and growth without the pressure of being something that he is not.

It is perfectly normal to struggle with the roller coaster of expectations.  It is important to not allow the highs to take you to unrealistic places, or let the lows bring you too far down.  The better strategy is to define expectation as "what is the next step forward?".  Keeping things manageable and realistic will encourage growth without the risk of frustration.

Be well and God bless.   Tom

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