The 5 Needs: Freedom and Boundaries | Organization for Autism Research

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We all know how important it is to teach our children (even as young adults) about freedom and boundaries, but we may not have realized that understanding freedoms and boundaries may come easier to some than others. So, when we have a child, teen, or young adult with special needs, we need to be persistent about discussing freedom and boundaries. We need to teach by example. Our children need more repetition about anything social.

Here are some examples of what this need looks like in real life; hopefully they are useful in teaching your child or young adult about freedoms and boundaries:

  1. A child with special needs tried to make friends with other children in his elementary school. Some of the other children told him to stand by the classroom door and tell them when the teacher was coming. He was trying to “be friendly” and did what they asked, even when most of the class got rather disorderly. You see, the other kids knew he was “different” and knew that he wouldn’t notice that he might get in trouble. The teacher fortunately knew this child meant no wrong and didn’t punish him, but it is a perfect example of freedom and boundaries in elementary school.
  1. Another time, a young man approached a teen boy who was waiting outside for a bus (a special needs bus in a large city) to go to work. The young man asked him to go in a store to purchase beer and cigarettes. He would have done as asked, if his mother hadn’t seen what happened. He simply thought he was helping by doing what someone in “need” asked.
  1. A young adult man (about 26 years of age) was working as a “store stock person” on a night shift when he was taken advantage of by the manager and his colleagues. Because he was unware of how to set boundaries, he was basically left to unload the truck as the others drank and smoked. This is an awful thing to have happened, and thankfully a job coach came in and put a stop to it all.

We also need to take a look at our own personal lives. We often give and give, but forget that we teach by example; our young ones will see what we do and do not do, too. We can easily get so caught up in living that we forget to set boundaries for ourselves. Realistically, it is easy to do! But, just think about it briefly: how are YOU doing? Yes, you do have freedoms: thoughts, fun, reading time, friendships, financial choices, food, and exercise. There are even other freedoms you may have forgotten.

5 NeedsBut how are you taking care of you? What boundaries do you set and what boundaries do you need to tighten up on? Can you say “No” to things others may want you to do? Can you say “No” to your child?

How about “Yes”? Can you say “Yes” and go have some fun! Can you say “Yes” and accept help? Can you say “Yes” and stop to rest? Freedom and boundaries are practical. Do a reality check on your life, and see how you (and your child) are doing in this area. It matters.

Where do you struggle with freedom and boundaries? What about your child: where is it hard for them? What have you done to help already? Think about these questions. But at the same time, give yourself and your child some credit, too.

We have the freedom to share and help, and the boundaries to not judge. No one is an island and no one can walk in another person’s shoes. We all have amazing stories. Let’s help and encourage one another.

About the author: Hello, my name is Wendy Swenson. I am a mother of three grown children and a grandmother, too. One of my children came to me by way of adoption. He is currently 32 years of age and has high-functioning autism. His life has been a miracle. I will tell you more about him in time. I work full-time as a school social worker and am a licensed clinical social worker. I have also authored six books on The 5 Needs we all share in life. I earned my Masters in Social Work from Southern University at New Orleans, where I grew up. My son and I moved to Virginia in order to receive better services for him in 2001. He is working part time now and has a wonderful job coach.

You can learn more about Wendy and “The 5 Needs” at her Web site.


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