A healthy child develops a sense of self and a self-concept (including self-esteem) at the same developmental ages and stages. A child with disabilities develops this way as well, but his/her challenges may impact the quality of self-esteem. However, a child with autism spectrum disorder or similiar syndrome, who has more difficulty distinguishing between self and others may have difficulty developing a sense of competence.
Self-concept and children with physical or intellectual challenges
Although most children with disabilities go through the same stages of development of self and self-esteem, in many cases, the quality of their self-esteem may be different than that of children without these challenges. This can be due to a number of issues as follows:
- They may have a great deal of difficulty controlling parts of their bodies and doing certain tasks of activities.
- Reactions of other people, particularly other children, may draw attention to their disability. They may be teased them about it.
- Being with children without disabilities in integrated settings may make the child with disabilities more aware of difficulty doing certain things.
- In some cases, children have a more difficult temperament (or their biochemical make-up may make them more easily frustrated or upset).
- They have difficulty keeping up with other children in the same group environment.
- Various medical interventions may contribute to the child’s sense of having-a-damaged-body-self and may create a sense of people in the outside world as physically hurtful.
- The children may have experienced periods of relative isolation from other children due to illness or hospitalization.
- Caregivers may either expect too much or too little of these children.
Strategies to encourage self-esteem for a child with disabilities
When children with disabilities do seem to be developing poor self-esteem it is important to encourage caregivers to practice these four strategies:
- Listen to what the child is saying about how he/she is feeling and what he/she identifies as the situations that cause incompetent or negative feelings.
- Observe the child with other children individually and in groups to identify interactions or situations that may be contributing to low self-esteem.
- Consider situations or tasks that may be particularly distressing or difficult for the child.
- Identify areas of competence.
As caregivers are clear about the issues that lead to poor self-esteem and carefully observe challenged children as they interact with others, they will be better able to help them cope with a world in which they struggle to be a part of. In so doing, we can better normalize their everyday lives and help them realize their unique capabilities, strengths and giftedness. This is a beginning to help our precious children with disabilities. More to come to help caregivers in my next post.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 355.