by Matt Graffagnino
I am very lucky to be surrounded by many special people who have influenced my growth and learning as a person, and as a father of two children with special needs. Although professionals and educators are doing their best to help with a game plan for skill development, we caregivers are the ones who have to make sure it happens on a daily basis. Believe me, I know how tough this is.
We are so caught up in the day-to-day survival that we can’t look outside today to see what’s down the road. We do things just to make it until bedtime. When additional things are presented to us by professionals, we often feel like, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen any time soon!”
We are so caught up in the day-to-day survival that we can’t look outside today to see what’s down the road. We do things just to make it until bedtime.
The truth is, I have always been open to suggestions, and willing to give them a try, but only when I was ready to implement those changes and be in a place where I could consistently follow through. When I was presented with questions about teaching employable skills to my kids, along with community participation, I could not believe it!
The thought of adding additional tasks to an already hectic day seemed almost impossible, but my friends have helped me realize that there are ways to incorporate essential skills and social connections into our already busy lives as early as the toddler years, and to continue them through the elementary levels and beyond.
The average learner needs to hear or experience new information several times to be able to retain it. I was able to buy into that philosophy and began to work on some skills with my boys. The key with anything is your willingness to buy into the “thing” and give it a shot.
I’ll use my oldest, Matty, as an example. He was already showing an interest in housework and chores by the age of five. He always liked to vacuum and I encouraged it. I started slow, bringing him to the stores with me. It was more about what I could handle, not him. After a while, the stares were fewer and the smiles were more.
From there, we built on the successes and started to go to fast food restaurants. You’d be surprised how the majority of the public is supportive and encouraging. The more we did these things the better we both got at it.
Being consistent is a key to building success. This didn’t happen overnight. It took years. And with Matty’s maturity level increasing, so did the level of community activities. It was trial and error, though. Plenty of trips were cut short or aborted.
Last year was a huge step for us. We started Boys and Girls Club. I didn’t want to, but I was reminded about all the progress he had made. I let go of my fears. It turns out there were several children there with various challenges. I explained Matty’s situation to the staff and my concerns were very well received.
Matty also takes part in all kinds of inclusion events with peer mentors at his middle school. I am not kidding when I say he is recognized everywhere we go with a “Hi Matty!” as I stand there like the third wheel.
It’s been more work upfront, but investing the time now will pay off down the road. Incorporating skill building and community exposure a little at a time has given us a real boost, and we are making improvements all the time.
Our ultimate goal is that our children are able to provide for themselves, and create a life as independent as possible to be productive members of society. Let’s give them a head start!
About Matt Graffagnino
I’m the father of two children with special needs. Writing enables me to release my emotions and fears for my children. I try to tell a story about my life experiences that other parents can relate to and say, “I totally know what he’s talking about.” My writing is similar to how I verbally tell a story, with drama and a bit of comedy infused with wild Italian hand motions.