This kinda goes with one of my ABA cartoons, but the concept goes far beyond just ABA. This is for everything - school, other therapies, extracurriculars, employment, pushing someone to have a social life. We’re even programmed to do it to ourselves!
Achievement and skills are fine things to have, yes, IF the person doesn’t have to hurt themselves to get there. Doing that for too long only leads to burnout, and then what do you have to show for all your hard work? What good is getting your kid “across the finish line” to high school graduation if they collapse in a heap and lose all functioning for the next five years? What’s the point of piling on the extra curriculars to impress colleges if they crash and burn once they get there? How does “socializing” help when it leaves us feeling depleted and lonely and only makes us want to avoid people even more? And no one likes to think about it, but what good is any of it if it pushes someone to literal death
Parents, your number one wish for your child should not be fitting in or productivity or complete independence. Those are honestly just not achievable for everyone. But even when they are achievable, they rely on mental well being to be sustainable.
Yes, I know you're feeling lots of outside pressure yourself, and that's where a lot of this urgency and feeling the need to push is coming from. Even if we have typical kids with no support needs, society expects them to follow a certain trajectory and expects us to make sure they do so. And if they don't, it's automatically our fault.
But then when you have a neurodivergent child, or a physically disabled child, or literally any child who doesn't automatically fit the norm or require no supports, the pressure intensifies. Now you have doctors, therapists, schools, "experts," even family and friends telling you that they can still achieve this that and the other, if only you work extra hard to get them there. From then on, everything your child can't do - even it's something they just won't ever be capable of no matter what, or even if the only reason they can't do it is because someone else isn't supporting them enough (*cough cough school*) - comes back to you. It's your fault. You aren't <fill in the blank> enough. Don't you care about your kid's future?
And all that sucks. And it's not fair. And I feel you. HOWEVER, it is not your child's burden to bear. All those people happen to be wrong, and it's your job to do right by your child no matter how much judgment they heap on you, not to get your child to perform and achieve to appease them and your own anxiety. Instead, examine your own stuff, unpack whatever it is that drives you to worry about these things so much.
Worried about how they'll survive without you? Maybe face that fear head on and see what you can do to plan for the possibility that they'll need lifelong support instead of pushing them too hard in the hopes that it won't come be.
Were you pushed so hard yourself that you don't realize what's wrong with it or what damage it may have caused? See a therapist if you can, look into some self help resources if you can't.
Stuck comparing yourself or your child to others and having a hard time letting go of unhealthy expectations? Again, seek some help with self examination, but also try changing up the community you are surrounding yourself with. Seeing other parents/families who embrace acceptance of disability and seek out life paths that are different but sustainable for their circumstances can really help you see the possibilities and feel less alone.
Whatever it is, do the work until you feel strong enough to stand up to all that pressure, to shield your child from it instead of pass it on to them, and to be the safe and supportive place that they so desperately need.
Not everyone struggles so much that they have to choose between achieving a goal or preserving mental health. But if you find that you or your child are one of those people, choose mental health. Always. If your child is crying out for a break, either through words or behaviors, for the love of everything give it to them. “Pushing through” may not end the way you hope it will, and everything else really can wait.
Someone who was too broken to use them when the time came (and who is determined to do better by my own kids).