Independence for all?

The importance of fostering independence among children with special needs

The concept of independence in its most direct and simple meaning, refers to the ability – or inability of a person, to practice their own life routine that is vital for his functioning in the world.

» Can we refer the idea of “practicing his own life routine which is vital”, to people with disabilities?
» Can we expect such abilities from children with special needs, or from old and sick people?
When it comes to people with disabilities and special needs, the Independence concept brings unique and important questions.

In the base of personal Independency for every one of us, there is a sense of competency.

The sense of competency is a person’s perception of their ability to act in a manner that will bring a particular outcome. We can define it as human’s faith in their abilities.
A person with high self-competency will appreciate the ability to cope with any task or situation, in a good manner. It will be easier for them to put efforts in performing the task ahead of them and continue with it despite the difficulties and challenges.

In contrast, a person with low self-competency is a person who believes that it would be difficult to carry out any activity or to deal with certain situations in a good and satisfying way. A person with low self-competency will avoid performing tasks or staying in situations perceived as too challenging and too complex. It would be difficult for this person not only with the daily challenges but also to learn new things, acquire new capabilities, and improve the existing ones

Without a sense of self-competency that allows dealing and independency, persons will find it difficult to advance and evolve in their life. They will miss a sense of control over themselves emotionally and physically, spatial orientation and will have trouble to conduct their daily routine.

The initial independence in our lives is based on the stages of sensory and motoric development as babies. These stages correlate with the stages of emotional and cognitive development.

Examples for stages of primary motor development: the ability to lift and hold the head, the ability to reach out purposefully towards an object in which I am interested, to skillfully roll over from back to stomach back and forth (capability which allows babies for the first time in their life, to take control over the position of their body!). The ability to crawl toward something or from something, to sit, to eat independently (first with bare hands and not with a spoon), to walk independently and the like… There will always be new learning, new stages to achieve and new independency to develop.
Every stage and learning of sensory and motor function is tied to our emotional, cognitive and behavioral development.

Through the development and learning of these basic functions, which are dealing also with separateness, self-integration self-regulation (sensory and emotionally) and self-control, children are experiencing a process of development, growth and learning. Through these stages, they learn how their actions affects themselves and their environment. They becomes more efficient in their movements and reactions and they develop a sense of competency.

Things are different of course for children with special needs.

All of us seek the realization of our basic needs. All of us need to connect, to experience pleasure, to develop our abilities, to feel worthy and competence and more ….

Babies who are restricted in their movement, babies who are unable to reach for a toy or has trouble to change their body position toward the sound they just heard, children who have difficulty to walk steadily towards their mother … are just a few examples of a situation in which an attempt to fulfill a need gives an outcome of pain, dissatisfaction and frustration.
When all of this is added to their protective environment (parents, relatives, caregivers) rushing to save them from hardships and tend to do instead of them, these children can develop insecurity, low frustration threshold, low self-competency and a significant lack of self-exploration habits.

Both children and their caregivers need to change habits and learn new ways.

Children with special needs depend on every level in others (parents, family members, caregivers).

The difficulty to support the development of their independence will most often be found in their immediate surroundings, among parents and close family members. Difficulties arising from worries and anxieties (which typically are based on real and solid unfortunate reality), habits, or different emotional needs (often unconscious).

The will to support and protect their child, the mental and physical stress that erodes their daily life, are causing many parents to act instead of their children in order to save them from situations of difficulties. Yet those difficulties and challenges are exactly what is needed for their children, in order to develop a sense of competency. Without it, how could they acquire the degree of independence possible in spite of their special needs and limitations?

That means that developing a sense of competency and independence requires from us (adults, parents, therapists and caregivers) awareness, recognition and oriented actions. We must learn how to help children and encourage them to explore their independence and competence. Especially with children who has special needs.

Significant Developmental Therapy aspires to help children explore and develop their abilities, while teach their immediate environment how to serve as a source of support and nourishment, to provide challenges and to avoid from becoming a barrier to their learning and development.

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The more we have the sense to develop independency in children with special needs; there will be also a very significant relief for their surrounding environment. It will create a space of listening to the real needs of the children and improvement in quality of life not only for them but also for the whole family.

The quality of a person’s life is based mainly on the principles of competency, independency, meaning, pleasure, learning and development. We must do all we can to find a balance between the desire to maintain the safety of children, and the significant need of them to experience, to learn and to develop independency.

The initial independence in our lives is based on the stages of sensory and motoric development as babies. These stages correlate with the stages of emotional and cognitive development.

With care,


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